A Students Initiated Consortium Engaging Refugees – Leeds School of Business

In 2015, 2,250 refugees and refugee eligible populations were resettled in Colorado with the majority coming from Burma, Bhutan, Somalia and Iraq. Colorado saw an additional 3,000 refugees arrive in 2016. This, as well as the Principles for Responsible Management Education Secretariats call to action to business schools and management-related Higher Education Institutions in response to the refugee crisis, prompted Colorado based Leeds School of Business in the USA to engage.

As we continue on with our special theme month focused on Diversity and Equality in Management Education, this week I spoke with Mark Meaney, Executive Director of the Center for Education on Social Responsibility at Leeds School of Business (and also a lead of the PRME North American Chapter) about their work in this area.

Why did Leeds answer the call?

At the Center for Education on Social Responsibility, we feel it is important that business schools assist in the integration of refugees into local economies. This makes sense both from the point of view of economic development and because it is the right thing to do. As to the former, studies have shown the extent to which refugees are entrepreneurial. As such, they contribute to economic development in local communities. As to the latter, Denver and Boulder are sanctuary cities with a commitment to maintaining an infrastructure that helps refugees in the integration into local communities.

How did Leeds respond?

Leeds answered the call because a group of students (CESR Fellows) wished to do something to address the global refugee crisis, to take action to try to diminish the suffering of people forced to flee conflict, and to work toward solutions for the widespread disruption.

I worked with the Fellows to assemble a consortium of stakeholders around the topic of refugee issues, including local, state and federal government officials, NGOs, business leaders from the Boulder/Denver business community, and regional business schools. Members of the consortium began to meet monthly in October of 2015. Over the course of several months, we reached consensus that the focus of our efforts in addressing refugee issues would be twofold: (1) to make connections among the various stakeholders in government, NGOs, businesses, and business schools in order to effect synergies in becoming more effective; and (2) to influence business schools in developing programming to meet the needs of refugees in assisting them in their integration into local economies. To these ends, we resolved to begin the process with a Regional Summit on Refugee Issues. We then continued to meet in planning the Summit.

What were the results of the Regional Summit on Refugee Issues?

On October 26th, experts from local, state and the federal government, NGOs, business leaders, and universities gathered at the University of Colorado at Boulder for the Regional Summit on Refugee Issues, to discuss the role of businesses and business  schools in integrating refugees into communities and local economies. By all accounts, the Summit was a smashing success.

The Summit succeeded in confirming the positive narrative that refugees do contribute to local economies. According to government officials and NGOs, studies demonstrate that refugees are much more likely to start new businesses that create wealth, employ local residents, and stimulate investment. Following upon this discussion, speakers and panelists also related that refugees also pay back their loans at higher rates than other disadvantaged populations.

CESR Fellows wanted to use the Summit to generate ideas about how stakeholders could work together to assist Colorado b-schools in assessing and meeting refugee higher education needs. We then reached consensus on how all stakeholders can partner with b-schools in mitigating the constraints that prevent refugees from integrating into local economies. We also accomplished precisely what we intended in joining federal, state and local government officials, leading NGOs, business leaders from the Denver/Boulder business community to work together with Colorado business schools.

What have been some of the challenges of engaging on these topics at Leeds? Successes?

As a result of the Summit, students and some faculty are now fully engaged in understanding the root causes of the refugee crisis. The challenge has been in engaging the administration and some faculty in embracing the HEI needs of refuges, and then in approving the development of programming to meet those needs.

Assembling the consortium is clearly one such success. Members have committed to continuing to work together to assist refugees in their integration into local economies. Another success is shown in relation to students from various regional b-schools who have fully committed to raising awareness of the plight of refugees among their peers. Effecting synergies among stakeholders who participated in the Summit must also count as a success. NGOs were able to place refugees as employees with employers who have a commitment to hire refugees, such as L&R Pallet and Knotty Tie. NGOs were also able to network with banks with a commitment to micro-finance and then help to secure loans for some of their refugee clients. Employers with an explicit policy to hire refugee are left feeling much more of a part of a larger community. They felt supported by other stakeholders. Finally, the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver has developed a program to assist refugees in learning the culinary skills needed to work in restaurants and hotels.

How can business schools help on refugee issues?

Do not try to do this on your own. Take the time to cultivate relationships in the community in building a consortium of relevant stakeholders who can support one another in a variety of ways. Business schools can help in three ways: (1) develop    programing to meet the education needs of refugees, particularly in area of entrepreneurship; (2) support research among faculty that focuses on the truth about the root causes of the refugee crisis and on the ways in which refugees contribute to economic growth in local economies; and (3) encourage service work that brings faculty and students together with refugee populations so that they can learn about the plight of refugees.

What’s next?

To build on the success of the pilot at the University of Denver in demonstrating how programming that addresses the HEI needs of refugee populations can be cost effective for other business schools in the region. To continue to galvanize support on the CU Boulder campus among administrators, faculty and students in support of refugees. The CESR Fellows have continued to build on the momentum of the Summit in reaching out across the CU campus in support of various refugee student groups to demonstrate solidarity.

For the month of June Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Equality and Diversity (SDG 10). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

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