By Gergi Abboud, Managing Director, Gulf, North Africa, Levant and Pakistan, SAP
I know from first-hand experience what it means to be displaced.
Displaced from everything – your family, your routine, your possessions, your basic amenities. Everything. While I experienced a fraction of what some refugees go through today, nevertheless, it was devastating for my parents and terribly hard for me as a child.
Those images and experiences remain with me. And they serve as an important reality check to remind me of how hard life can get for no fault of your own making. But I was lucky. I had the opportunity to go back to my community, to my country and be welcomed by them. Many refugees today face challenges in developing their own potential and returning to their homes.
As the world faces increasing social, political and economic dilemmas, never before has Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) been more relevant to businesses as it is today. Business growth is directly linked to smart investments in CSR — which also helps attract and retain customers and top talent.
And perhaps, most importantly, because businesses today are defined by their people, it becomes critical for organizations to support causes that are close to the hearts of their people.
Aligning business objectives with a greater purpose
CSR is no longer a mere checkbox on an annual report. Traditionally perceived as a tool to seek stakeholder approval and trusted brand recognition, CSR has now evolved to become one of the strategic pillars for holistic business growth.
Doing ‘good’ is not only about giving back to community and needs to be an organizational quest for finding purpose that aligns with business objectives. Only then can it leave lasting value and impact for those who receive it. And the ones involved in extending it.
An imbalance of opportunity and need
We live in world of contrasts. People are often polarized between having opportunity and not. A good example of this is the ongoing digital transformation that is sweeping the business world.
For example, Gartner predicts that the region’s IT market in the region continues to grow at 2% in 2017, presenting strong technology job opportunities. Among companies in the Middle East and North Africa, 43% are looking for Junior Executives, according to Bayt.com. And the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia alone is short 37,000 ICT professionals. Similarly, the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission states that Saudi Arabia is short of a cumulative 37,000 ICT professionals from 2014-2017.
Potentially, this trend means that all markets will need a steady supply of core computing and coding skills to support this growth – which means more jobs. However, the reality remains far from ideal.
As per statistics from Bayt.com and YouGov, youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa is among the highest in the world – 23 percent, which is nearly double the global average of 13%. However, that is not due to a lack of workers – it’s due to a lack of workers with the right skills.
Solving real world problems with skilled volunteering
To help address this, let’s think of ways organizations can contribute to lasting social impact. One key way Skilled Volunteering, which allows organizations to harness specifically their skill sets and strengths to add value to CSR initiatives. It helps bridge the social ‘needs’ gap as well as address other real-world problems. And a great live example of this is the Refugee Code Week (RCW).
It uses skilled volunteering to alleviate not only the current, but the future of the refugee situation. It looks at providing refugees with access to coding literacy. To me, this is the closest thing to a super power than can be taught in today’s digital age. Coding literacy can help empower refugees to become sustainable and employable, and in turn help empower other young refugees in the long run.
Turning refugee settlements into recruitment grounds
How exactly is RCW solving real-world problems? Most obviously, it helps address the refugee condition, giving them hope and empowering a better future for them based on education. It also helps address another serious challenge facing companies and nations today – a crippling paucity of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills. CSR initiatives such as RCW serve as the perfect bridge, leapfrogging literacy into employability.
Particularly, coding literacy happens to be the rare skill, that can be taught in a minimal timeframe (as little as 16 weeks) while making people immediately employable. While those being supported gain the necessary skills, companies on the other hand can tap into this massive refugee talent pool and meet their ICT skills shortfall. And the success of our first Bootcamp, with nearly 100% placement of all trainees including refugees, stands testament to the viability of this model.
Education bears the torch
The impact of the refugee situation has been monumental on their lives. Many refugees are not optimistic about their future, and are calling on the global community to come together to find practical solutions to education and careers. However, after volunteering myself, and seeing the heartbreaking situation first hand, I passionately feel that the entire weight of changing the refugee situation hinges on education. Having heard countless moving stories from the camps, I’ve see that the hope in peoples’ hearts is born from one of their most precious possessions carried on them even through displacement – their high school diplomas and educational degrees.
And this gives hope to us as well, to help turn their resentment and negativity into productive time spent to learn skills that can help them integrate better into the community. It gives us direction as corporates, to look at the refugee pool as untapped intellectual potential that can help solve the shortage of ICT skills in the global economy.
And the end objective, is to see these young refugees and youth become social innovators, solving social problems not just with their skills and mindset, but with hope and conviction in their hearts.
With thanks to Batoul Husseini, Global Lead for Refugee Code Week.