What if we looked at the refugee crisis as an opportunity rather than a burden?
What if this influx of diversity could help us foster a new Europe—one where every person is cherished and prosperity abounds?
These questions aren't some far off utopian dream, but a reality that is emerging out of the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time. You may have been inundated by the horrible stories and images on the news and think that there is nothing you can do.
That couldn't be farther from the truth. There are beautiful movements happening amidst the refugee crisis and really simple and easy ways for you help (from the comfort of your home).
The goal of this post is to discuss the dream for a new Europe and give some practical ways for people to get involved.
Three Main Responses
In witnessing the situation in Europe over the past months, I have realized that there are three main responses to the human suffering of refugees around us:
- Closing borders
The vast majority of people have become desensitized to the suffering of their fellow humans and have responded to the refugee crisis by doing little to nothing.
Some people have moved to close their countries borders, tighten immigration and harden their hearts to the suffering of humans who just so happen to be seeking asylum in a European country.
A small but powerful contingent of people have responded with compassion: they have opened their homes, lobbied for asylum and compelled others to respond to the suffering of strangers as if they were the closest of loved ones.
No matter which response you find yourself gravitating towards, I implore you to consider one crucial phrase as you respond to the suffering of asylum seekers in Europe:
When refugees prosper, we all prosper.
Genesis of The Phrase
I first heard this phrase when I was attending the Techfugees conference in London on December 2nd 2015. It was spoken by a former refugee who had started a business in the UK to help asylum seekers integrate and contribute to the society that welcomed them.
As soon as the words hit my ears I felt it resonate deeply within me—so deeply that I decided to name our community organization 'Prosper'.
I believe that this phrase is not only true, but that its premise will become one of the most significant factors of our future here in Europe.
The influx of refugees that captured the world's attention in 2015 was just the beginning. Three million are expected to arrive in Europe by 2017, and some consider this to be a modest estimation.
This movement of people presents European states with an opportunity to harness the power of diversity amidst an ever-changing global marketplace. Design Thinking teaches us that diversity is a highly sought after asset to the most successful businesses of our time.
If it is true that Airbnb, Google, Facebook, Uber, Twitter and many others intentionally build diverse teams—could it also be true that diversity is a crucial ingredient to their success?
The Power of Diversity
One quick search about diversity in the workplace yields dozens of studies from the likes of Stanford, Berkeley and MIT which all take different angles on the same truth: Diversity is a key element to success in today's marketplace ,,,.
Rather than positioning people migrating to Europe as a burden to existing taxpayers, we need to perceive them as future taxpayers.
We need to prepare ourselves to communicate with these people effectively and to empower them to weave into the fabic of our society—not just contributing, but prospering and helping others prosper as well.
This is important for our well-being as a human race, not just as an economy. Our businesses will benefit from diversity, our communities, and our nations—but most importantly we will come closer to our shared identity of what it means to be human.
We need to follow the likes of Kiron University in establishing free world-class education for refugees. We need to see more initiatives like Refugees on Rails which are teaching refugees in Berlin how to code and preparing them with job skills and relationships.
These are only a few of the inspiring examples of responses to the refugee crisis that we have discovered in working on our first refugee crisis initiative, Refugee Projects.com. These purpose-driven initiatives makes me wonder: What do the people behind these projects see that others don't?
Refugees are people. They are men, women and children with dreams, skills and wisdom. They are fleeing war and persecution. If we cannot afford to welcome them into our community for fear of changing what we have, what kind of 'community' are we protecting?
I think the vision shared by initiatives like Kiron University and Refugees on Rails is the catalyst of a moment that will change our future more than anything we can imagine.
Design, technology, art and business is being used as a force for good to solve real human problems—to make the world a better place.
The Untapped Potential of Migrants
I believe that each and every human being has the potential to create something positive, beautiful and transformational in this world.
If you think Syrian migrants and their descendants have nothing to offer the world and its economy—look at Steve Jobs.
Thanks to Banksy, the world now knows that Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant. He also was the most influential CEO and innovator of our time.
Most of the refugees that I have met are highly motivated people who have undertaken incredibly risky journeys to start a new life and to pave new horizons for themselves and their families. If Europe were more prepared to support these people along their journey, I think we would see a momentous culture of entrepreneurship and innovation growing out of the refugee communities in Europe.
We need to break down the barriers that prevent refugees from getting work, starting businesses and contributing to society. If we consider the phrase above, these barriers are standing in the way of our growth and prosperity as well—not just theirs.
Embracing Change and Diversity
Unfortunately there is a large cohort of European citizens and policymakers who have yet to grasp the reality of migrants' untapped potential. These individuals are motivated by fear rather than love and have created more obstacles for asylum seekers.
If we continue down the rabbit hole of thinking that change is bad and that homogeneity is safety—we are going to find ourselves lagging behind the businesses and states which embrace change and diversity.
The Germanies, Swedens and Finlands of the world are going to be epicenters for innovation and economic vibrancy. Their response to the refugee crisis is no coincidence. These people get it.
Rather than relying on the heroic responses of a few states, we should come together as a unified Europe to embrace the changing society we live in and cultivate the type of diversity which will allow us all to thrive.
A Pragmatic Approach
As UNHCR António Guterres mentioned in his TED interview in December 2015, we should distribute refugees evenly across Europe according to population.
We should equip villages, towns and cities to empower the incoming migrants with opportunities to integrate and contribute to society.
This pragmatic approach is one that I hope the EU and the UN will take in its stride. But this is just one component of seizing the opportunity. In our research we have identified many other possible responses to this crisis.
Some of these responses can be assisted by technology and design, but at the heart of each response is real human compassion—something that is sorely lacking in our world.
The dream of a new Europe is emerging out of the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time. How will you respond?
We've built Prosper on the premise that when refugees prosper we all prosper, and we have already begun to see its fruits: Our community has grown from a proof of concept to a vibrant, diverse and active group of people from all over the world collaborating to help refugees prosper in Europe.
We have been fortunate to build relationships with people all over the refugee crisis—from Lesvos up to Berlin, into Stockholm, through London and all the way to Brighton. We're building local communities that are connected to a centralized digital community on the web.
Whether you're a skilled digital worker, a caring parent, or someone who just wants to help, we'd love to help point you in the right direction. Check out our website or connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
- 1. Migrant crisis: Three million expected to reach EU by 2017
- 2. What's the business case for diversity in the workplace?
- 3. Studies: Diversity Spurs Workplace Creativity
- 4. Study on diversity in the workplace
- 5. Study: Workplace diversity can help the bottom line
- 6. Banksy work in Calais 'Jungle' shows Steve Jobs as migrant
- 7. António Guterres: Refugees have the right to be protected