ITC Executive Director statement at the 66th session of the UNHCR executive committee

6 October 2015
ITC News
Statement delivered by ITC Executive Director Arancha González at the 66th session of the UNHCR executive committee of the high commissioner’s programme on ‘engaging in a new way with development actors'

Geneva 6 October 2015

Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the number of forcibly displaced persons reaches new records each month, we are reminded that decisive action cannot wait.

The new global goals adopted a few weeks ago in New York fully recognizes that empowering the most vulnerable is a precondition for peace and prosperity and that no one should be left behind. Refugees and internally-displaced people feature prominently in this agenda – and for good reasons.

In today’s world, swift emergency responses remain critical to save lives and bring relief to those in need. UNHCR is at the front line of this struggle. I admire the bravery and determination with which all humanitarian actors face critical challenges as they unfold, often with limited means. Upholding human life is the priority.

This is why in January this year ITC and UNHCR signed an MOU pledging to work together. Empowering the lives of people and ensuring a sustainable future for the generations to come has to be at the core of the work of all development agencies. Whether the focus is trade, human rights, labour, environment, health- the nucleus of this is creating a better world for now and for the future.

This collaboration with UNHCR is about leveraging the vast experience and expertise which this organisation has on the ground and merging it with ITC’s fifty plus years of expertise in building the capacity of the private sector in developing countries to use trade as a platform for growth and sustainable development. ITC is an organisation that focuses on practical and sustainable solutions to allow the widest berth or people to benefit from trade and being part of the productive environment.

Many other organisations and development actors have developed impressive tools and approaches to help marginalized communities participate in productive economic activity. These are just not often seen through the lens of refugees or displaced people.

At ITC, we have repeatedly experienced how trade empowers individuals, often through micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, to enter productive value chains, even in harsh conditions. We have seen trade open up opportunities for disadvantaged groups ranging from youth to indigenous groups, and from the urban destitute to disenfranchised women. The results are quantifiable… and impressive.

Rural women in places like Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Mongolia have managed to reach out to consumers for their hand made home-décor items. Rural women from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia have found markets for their agricultural produce. At the same time, ethical fashion items produced, and sometimes even designed, by the urban poor in Nairobi or Port-au-Prince have dazzled audiences on the catwalks of Paris, Milan and Rio de Janeiro. Just last week at the WTO public Forum we showcased ethical fashion bracelets made in Haiti, by Haitian women and using Haitian recycled materials.

This is an economic response to a need but also a livelihoods response.

And how does this development experience relate to displacement?

In some parts of the world, we often see that stop-gap solutions, meant to bring relief to crisis solutions linger for years; sometimes for decades. These protracted situations grow ever more entrenched.

As time goes by, talented and even highly-skilled people often fail to find ways to make a living on their own. Skillsets go obsolete while productive chains in the home country may have already imploded. In other words, what we witness is a failure to give those already displaced a second chance, to help them resume a life in safety and dignity.

When it comes to protracted displacement, one point is crystal clear. No one can fix it alone. The expertise and delivery channels of established humanitarian actors remain critical. But development expertise, especially in building market opportunities, is required.

For this reason, ITC is teaming up with organizations such as the UNHCR and the Norwegian Refugee Council in order to bring solutions, which are not only innovative, but above all sustainable.

Another source of innovation is the Solutions Alliance. ITC is both learning from and contributing to the group on engaging the private sector in displacement. This team is unearthing good practices for pulling in private sector firms as vibrant partners in humanitarian settings.

ITC has deep experience working with the business community around the globe. We are capitalizing on that experience by seeking to adapt our tools for the benefit of displaced communities. Social enterprises play a pivotal role in this regard. We believe that for-profit dynamics, and not charity, is the sustainable way to go. Our motto reflects this clearly: ‘not charity, just work’.

ITC is rolling out pilot projects together with its partners. One of them focuses on internet-based work in places such as Dadaab in Kenya. When designing this project, we realized that for many Somali refugees, returning to pastoralism was no longer an option. What they need is a skillset that connects with actual demand. Following UNHCR’s global strategy for livelihoods we confirmed that internet-based work held promise in the Dadaab context. The pilot project hence seeks to harness market-based incentives to upgrade skillsets and generate incomes. It targets both refugees and host-country nationals.

The key here is to find a way to link the refugees’ productive potential with international markets. To do so, we have identified Nairobi-based social enterprises able to source data entry work, document formatting and other business process outsourcing services from self-help groups in Daadab. Skills development and marketing activities are geared to address actual needs from real clients. We are still in the early days of this intervention but signs are positive that it will have an impact of the lives of these people and will be an effort worth replicating in similar environments.

Together with UNHCR, we are discussing a similar partnership in Burkina Faso. There, a pilot initiative funded by the IKEA Foundation is helping to capitalize on ancestral skills in the leather sector by working with West African refugees. This project helps introduce chrome-free tanning, upgrade product designs, and create market connections. ITC looks forward to continuing its support to the UNHCR in this worthy project and to explore ways to bring our market-based expertise in the leather sector to this area.

We are jointly looking at ways to upscale these types of initiatives and stepping them up in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and beyond. Projects in our pipeline cover ethical fashion, internet-based work and agriculture. They all seek to improve incomes for displaced persons and to upgrade skills for repatriation or resettlement. Just as importantly, we also seek to bring about tangible benefits for the host countries.

Just last week we all made a commitment to implement the 2030 Global Goals. In these challenging situations we have to approach this with care, commitment and patience. Change will be incremental. But it will happen if we focus the traditional development assistance, national resource mobilization, and private sector engagement towards creating opportunities and linking these opportunities to markets.

Meeting this ambitious global agenda also requires innovation. There is a need for more efficient ways to approach the question of displaced people. Out-of-the box solutions are required and I hope that this debate today will uncover some of these. One thing which is clear is the need to include the host country, the country of origin and the communities themselves in any programme or intervention that aims to change their situation. It has to be a participatory process with buy-in from all quarters.
Creating a market for goods and services produced by displaced people should not disenfranchise any component of the existing economic life of the host country. It should enhance and complement it.

Each type of actor brings a distinct set of competences. ITC’s first steps show us that development and humanitarian partners can make a lasting difference if they work together. The UNHCR’s global strategy for livelihoods shows us the way to go and we will continue to work in partnership with UNHCR to create solutions for the nearly 60 million displaced human beings around the world. We will certainly not be able to help them all- but we can create a framework of interventions and best practice that other agencies can build upon.

I thank you for your attention.