UNHCR private-sector partners win big at this year's FT/IFC awards

IKEA Foundation and Vodafone Foundation receive recognition for their work with UNHCR in solving challenges faced by refugees

Beneficiaries of an agricultural irrigation project in Melkadida, Ethiopia, greet each other in June 2018. The project is supported by the IKEA Foundation.  © UNHCR/Diana Diaz

Two of UNHCR’s private-sector partners, IKEA Foundation and Vodafone Foundation, won awards today at the Financial Times/International Finance Corporation Transformational and Business Conference Awards 2020 for their innovative approaches to solving challenges faced by millions of refugees in accessing quality education and employment.

“This is fantastic news. These two awards show once again the crucial role of the private sector in positively impacting the lives of refugees and their host communities,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Both IKEA Foundation and Vodafone Foundation came up with innovative approaches which have truly transformed the lives of refugees living in very difficult circumstances and this recognition is absolutely well deserved.”

The 2020 conference, which gathered investors, social entrepreneurs and other “thought leaders,” took place virtually. In addition to the awards ceremony, it included a discussion of the “unprecedented social and economic challenges” developing countries face due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than one million people worldwide.

"Both IKEA Foundation and Vodafone Foundation came up with innovative approaches which have truly transformed the lives of refugees."

IKEA Foundation won the Special Award: Innovating for the Most Vulnerable and Disadvantaged for its livelihoods project with UNHCR in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia, which focuses on building refugee and host community self-reliance in the long-term. The project has created and implemented a unique, inclusive and market-based livelihood development programme to support economic development and livelihoods opportunities, benefitting refugees and locals alike. It includes technical training programs, creates agricultural and farming cooperatives led by refugees and strengthens infrastructure for farming and business.

In his acceptance speech, IKEA Foundation CEO Per Heggenes said, “All credit really goes to the people in Dollo Ado who are working so hard to build better futures for their families and their children, and to UNHCR who’s been our partner in this experiment. This is the core mission of the IKEA Foundation, which is to improve livelihoods on a livable planet.”

Kenya. Merinas, Mumina and Mary walk with their classmates and tablets through the school grounds

The Vodafone Foundation's Instant Network Schools initiative provides internet connectivity, tablets, solar-powered batteries, satellite or mobile networks, software, online learning material and more to schools and community centres.   © UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

Vodafone Foundation took home the award in the Transformational Solutions in Education, Knowledge and Skills category for the Instant Network Schools (INS) programme, which, together with UNHCR, provides quality digital education for refugee learners across Africa. Established in 2013, the INS programme provides a digital classroom, connectivity, content, teacher training and teacher and technical support to refugees in Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. There are currently 36 participating schools with more than 86,000 students.

"Now more than ever, connectivity and technology are vital tools to ensure no child is left behind."

In his acceptance speech, the Instant Network Programme Manager at Vodafone Foundation, Oisin Walton, called on the global community to support education for all. “Every child has the right to quality education. And now more than ever, connectivity and technology are vital tools to ensure no child is left behind," Walton said. "Through our partnership with UNHCR and working closely with governments, we will continue our work in INS, expanding the programme to reach 500,000 refugee and host community students by 2025.”

Each year the Financial Times and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, bring together senior investors, innovators, social entrepreneurs and other thought leaders to honour those whose capital, technology and ideas are contributing to substantive progress in developing low-carbon urban infrastructure, delivering health care and education, ensuring food and water security, boosting inclusion, and generally transforming the development landscape. This year marks 15 years of FT-IFC collaboration on this programme, which has had a substantial impact on the way financial and non-financial organizations approach sustainable investment.