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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Helping refugees live their lives key to achieving long-term goals, experts say

Nonprofit group Kiva lends money to refugees to help them start small businesses and get back on their feet again

Last September, 190 governments agreed in New York that much more needed to be done to share the responsibilities of refugee crises as well as look at new ways of dealing with mass displacement. At the time, the UAE said it would welcome an additional 15,000 Syrians.

Although technological solutions are helping, the need for reintegration into normal life for refugees should also not be dismissed.

“Second to the need to find new countries, it is critical to find countries that can provide refugees with mechanisms to live their lives,” said Toby Harward, head of UNHCR Abu Dhabi. “We’re talking long-term but not lifetime – we’re talking about a real need to provide education and livelihood to refugees.”

Nonprofit group Kiva, for instance, focuses on lending to refugees to help them start small businesses throughout the world, but especially in Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.

“The loans are focused on using technology – crowdfunding - for small businesses,” said Lev Plaves, Kiva’s senior portfolio manager for the Middle East. “We recently launched the World Refugee Fund. Providing refugees with access to financial services is a key component to addressing the refugee crisis and, as displacement for refugee populations around the world becomes more long-term and protracted, we need to look beyond solely humanitarian responses and focus on sustainable solutions and livelihoods. Financial access is key to this.”

He said technology allowed Kiva to leverage the power of crowdfunding to support refugees by providing them access to finance.

“Many local financial institutions shy away from working with refugees due to the high cost of serving them as well as the perceived risk,” Mr Plaves said. “Because Kiva funding is crowdfunded, it allows us to provide low-cost and risk-tolerant capital to local financial institutions, who can then use this capital as an R&D source to test new products or reach new populations who may be riskier or more expensive to reach.

“In the Middle East, we are specifically looking to leverage our unique capital so that local financial service providers can reach refugees.”

Kiva also “allows companies, foundations or individuals to contribute matching funds, so that each US$25 crowdfunded by a Kiva lender will be matched, thus doubling the impact”.