Women’s Resilience, Entrepreneurship & Innovation in the COVID-19 Recovery
In partnership with UNHCR, Concordia Global Patron Member
March 9, 2021 | DIgital
9:00 – 10:00 AM EST
Monday March 8, 2021 marked the 44th International Women’s Day, a special anniversary on which women globally are celebrated regardless of their ethnic, national, economic, political, or cultural differences. The year’s theme—Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world—recognized the important role that women play on the front lines to combat the pandemic, including as health care workers, care givers, innovators, and community organizers.
This conversation, led by UNHCR, focused on how women—especially female refugees, internally-displaced people, and persons of concern—stand to be more heavily impacted by the pandemic and must continue to be at the forefront of recovery plans.
As highlighted by Kelly T. Clements, the world is currently facing historically unprecedented levels of forced displacement, with over 80 million people coerced into moving from their homes. Moreover, the pandemic has become a risk multiplier for refugees and internally-displaced people. The most vulnerable, especially women and girls, are being impacted in three main ways: i) Since women tend to be caregivers for the sick and elderly, they are disproportionately exposed to COVID-19; ii) Due to the economic impact of the pandemic, there is an alarming rise in the number of women turning to sexual work; and, iii) Given that refugees often fall outside of the government social safety net, refugee women are at particular risk of violence at home. For every three months that lockdowns continue, 15 million more refugee women and girls are exposed to gender-based violence.
Nevertheless, Clements also remarked on some facts that lead to an optimistic panorama: i) Many countries are including refugees, specifically refugee women, in their response to the pandemic; ii) In places like Zaatari in Jordan—the world’s second-largest refugee camp—women have organized massive soap manufacturing and distribution efforts; and, iii) Women are using technology and innovation to get information out and keep their community safe.
Mastercard has been working to deliver aid in a dignified and empowering manner for around 10 years. As explained by Tara Nathan, the company realized it was imperative to develop a digital infrastructure for multiple players to come together due to large numbers of refugees, and that obtaining legal status as a refugee is oftentimes a long process. As a result, Mastercard created Community Pass, a platform that gives beneficiaries a digital ID and provides card, multi-wallet, digital acceptance, and data capability. This innovation has enabled organizations like UNHCR and Save the Children to identify their beneficiaries more efficiently and provide humanitarian aid in a scalable and cheaper way. At the same time, it has allowed women to send their children to school, get their children vaccinated, get paid, and make payments regardless of their refugee status. Nathan stated that Community Pass is leaving a legacy because communities can now start to work towards ecosystem and commerce building.
Vulnerable communities are not a homogeneous group of people nor a group without agency. Maya Ghazal commented on the different refugee experiences: while some refugees have to live a dangerous journey and/or stay in a refugee camp, others—as in the case of her family—can migrate with previously-granted permits/visas. Vaishali Misra also talked about diversity, pointing out that—from a sustainability perspective—what is fair and equal within a marginalized community differs between countries and regions. For this reason, when IKEA partners with social entrepreneurs, the company engages deeply with communities in order to understand their needs and achieve greater impact together. Similarly, Clements emphasized that UNHCR does not view refugee women as passive aid recipients, but rather as part of the solution. Women are not only included in the decision-making process, but they are also active actors taking care of themselves and their families.
As outlined by Misra, every action that IKEA takes must be affordable, accessible, and have a positive impact on people, society, and the planet. To fulfill these pillars and create sustainable livelihood opportunities through the company’s products and services, collaboration is key. IKEA is involved in nine global partnerships with enterprises that focus on home furnishing products and food, and for which social issues are at the core of the business. These enterprises empower women through jobs and leadership positions in countries like India, Thailand, and Jordan, and will soon expand into countries like Indonesia, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. Misra added that the pandemic has affected IKEA’s supply chain. To ensure that the orders were in place and were not canceled during the lockdown, the co-creation of solutions with IKEA’s partners was essential.
Clements pointed out that partnering with the private sector is crucial for both coming through the pandemic and making it possible for people to be able to provide for themselves. Through innovation, companies like Mastercard and IKEA have enhanced financial and digital inclusion, while companies like Unilever have quickly provided hygiene materials to keep UNHCR beneficiaries safe, and companies like Vodafone and Microsoft have made it possible for women and girls to access digital learning during the pandemic.
Ghazal closed the conversation stating that the private sector holds so much power in terms of raising the new generation of refugees by creating opportunities where they can flourish and accomplish their dreams.