Empowering Refugees through training and funding – Monash University Malaysia (Part 2 of 2)

Malaysia is home to one of the largest urban refugee populations in the world, over 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers according to UNHCR. The School of Business at Monash University Malaysia has been actively engaged for several years now in programmes aimed at assisting and empowering individuals from this population through capacity building, funding and partnerships with multiple organisations. Last week I spoke with Priya Sharma, Coordinator and PRME Ambassador at Monash University Malaysia about the School’s CERTE programme, a bridge course to prepare students for university. In this second post, we look at another programme that provides small grants to refugee community based organisations and more specifically at the partnerships that the School has developed in this space.

How did your partnership with UNHCR Kuala Lumpur come about

The relationship between Monash University Malaysia School of Business (MUM-SOB) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began informally in 2015, when the UNHCR Representative to Malaysia, Richard Towle was invited to participate in a public forum held by the school during its community engagement week, titled ‘Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire:- Responding to the 21st Century Refugee Crisis’. Following this event, on Refugee Day 2016, I was invited by UNHCR to participate in an expert roundtable discussion on “Employing Refugees in Malaysia: A Win-Win for All”. In 2017, CERTE was organized as result of a collaboration between the School and T4R an NGO focused on education of refugees and has a standing relationship with UNHCR. As a result of this collaboration, a task force was set up here to look into possibilities of offering education to refugee students with advice from UNHCR, Kuala Lumpur. As trust and confidence between the entities grew, in 2018, T4R was granted the Refugee Social Protection Fund (SPF) Program by UNHCR, to be implemented in partnership with MUM-SOB

What is the SPF, how does it work and what kinds of projects are you funding

MUM-SOB PRME is collaborating to implement the Refugee SPF program initiated by UNHCR Kuala Lumpur. The UNHCR Kuala Lumpur introduced the Refugee SPF program in 2009. It operates as a fund for provision of small grants to refugee community based organizations (CBOs). 10 Refugee CBOs applied for the SPF grant from UNHCR, of which 7 CBOs will be successful.

The objective of this program is to further strengthen the capacity of 7 refugee CBOs and ensure adequate support for these community led projects to promote self-reliance within the refugee communities. The program also aims to improve livelihoods of some 200 vulnerable persons in the community especially women and youth. The program ends on 31st December 2018.

What is MUM-SOB role in the partnership?

Part of our role is to conduct workshops for the CBO leaders and provide mentors to guide them. The workshops provide key tools to help the CBOs meet their individual needs, while also providing a platform for collaborative work and team-building across CBOs. The first workshops focused on project management skills which included developing project goals/objectives and setting key indicators for impact, output & performance. The mentors and facilitators also provided guidance to the CBO representatives in their application of the Refugee SPF project fund. Three workshops are conducted with those CBOs who receive the funds.

Each CBO is paired with a PRME mentor, who are academics from various disciplines within the School of Business. Each mentor will support their CBO representative in implementing the tools and resources introduced during the workshops. The mentors will also make site visits to oversee the progress of the implementation of the tools and resources and help to identify and address questions and challenges as they arise. During this project, the mentors are expected to:

  1. Attend a Mentor Workshop to be organized by MUM-SOB PRME.
  2. Attend all Workshops organized for the CBO representatives by MUM-SOB PRME.
  3. Conduct 3 site visits (one visit after each workshop) to the CBOs assigned to oversee and evaluate implementation of the workshop tools & skills.
  4. Provide guidance, support and regular communication with the assigned CBO representatives.
  5. Prepare and submit 2 reports, namely the Mid-Progress Report and the Final Report at the end of the project.

Why is this collaboration important in your view?

Firstly, a collaboration like this between UNHCR, T4R and MUM-SOB, builds partnerships and helps bridge the gap between educational institutions, industry and community. It enables us to reach, empower and make a real difference to vulnerable communities directly, thereby creating impact on society. To quote an old Sudanese saying, one hand cannot clap. Coordinating these types of initiatives can be challenging. One way to address such a challenge is to focus on partnerships, not just among international actors, but more importantly, between international and local partners. Emphasis on such partnerships can create opportunities to combine skills, expertise and resources that more effectively empower vulnerable communities.

Secondly, the workshops serve several purposes. They not only provide key tools to help the CBOs meet their individual community needs, but also function as a platform for collaborative work and team-building across CBOs. This is evident from the feedback received from the first workshop as it became clear that these refugee community representatives were pleased to be acquainted with each other. It provided them a sense of community support and gave them the opportunity to work together on future projects.

Thirdly, by creating a mentoring program, the refugee mentees benefit a great deal to make their community self-sufficient and independent. Throughout the program, they are taught and guided by the MUM-SOB academics and experts to develop their own skills, strategies and capability so that they are enabled to tackle the next hurdle more effectively. It also opens doors for partnerships between refugee communities and local NGOs and social enterprises through networks the mentors are a part of.

What are your tips for schools looking to partner with local or international organisations?

We think that there are various ways a School can partner with a UN organization locally. Reaching out and visiting these UN bodies locally may be the starting point. For instance, we recently visited the UN Global Compact (UNGC) office in Malaysia and invited its  director to present on UNGC activities in Malaysia to the School’s management team. In addition, UN bodies are invited by our School to participate or adjudicate student competitions. For UN bodies like UNHCR, we have invited them to set up booths during student-led bazaars to sell items made by refugees to raise funds. In our experience, these initiatives open  avenues for collaboration relating to multidisciplinary research, education, student engagement and others, thus building relationships of trust and confidence for future partnerships.

Is this partnership also opening up opportunities in research and in the classroom?

We are exploring opportunities that may arise in research, education and partnerships. At the end of this project, the data collected may be used by MUM-SOB for research and publication from a multi-disciplinary perspective. This project may also be utilized for education purposes in the classroom, through student activities and a component on sustainability, demonstrating the importance of collaboration between educational institutional institutions, NGOs and UN bodies in empowering and bringing impact to vulnerable communities. It may also translate into social enterprises involving Malaysians and the refugee communities.


Communication with the refugee mentees has not always been easy. As they are extremely caught up in trying to make a basic living, engaging with them can be an uphill task. Due to their difficult situation in trying to make basic ends meet, an initiative like this may be overwhelming. In such a predicament, it is up to the collaborative partners to be aware of this problem and press on, sensitively to help them.

Next steps?

We hope that this initiative will inspire students and staff to engage in more impactful measures surrounding the 17 sustainable development goals and make efforts to partner with UN bodies and NGOs to successfully impact society and communities. The collaboration between T4R and UNHCR further promises a positive future working relationship to realize other sustainability initiatives for the community and society.


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