Reimagining Refugees at the United Nations

Business leaders, nonprofits and policy makers want to build bridges between refugees
and the private sector.

It was September 24, 2019, the first day of the 74th session of the U.N. General
Assembly, and at the invitation of the United Nations, Amplio Ventures was hosting
a meeting of two dozen business leaders, non-profits, and policy makers—all with
some relationship to the refugee community. The topic: the refugee workforce.
“People who are forced to flee their home—they’re some of the most resilient
people in the world,” said Christine Mendonca, one of Amplio’s guests who has
worked with the refugee community in the private sector for nearly a decade. “Yes,
they arrive at a deficit. And it’s the nonprofit sector’s role to bring them back to zero.
But once they are, we have to talk about the assets that they bring to the table and
that they bring to their community.”

Amplio General Partner Chris Chancey has seen that story play out many times over.
Under his leadership, Amplio Recruiting has placed 5,000 refugees in full-time jobs
and in the process, helped 300 companies foster reliable, sustainable workforces.
Chancy talked of his introduction to the refugee community when he and his wife
moved to Clarkston, Ga. area, in 2014. Clarkston had already earned its nickname as
“the Ellis Island of the South,” a resettlement location for tens of thousands of global
refugees.

“We spent our first year in the neighborhood just getting to know people,” Chancey
shared with the meeting attendees. “Every one of those conversations ended with
individuals asking for help to find a job.”
Half the refugee community was under- or unemployed. And while the government
and refugee aid organizations had helped relocate them after they had been forced
to flee their home countries, they were struggling to find work in the private sector,
and re-start their lives.

“In their home countries, they had careers,” said Chancey. “They just wanted to
restore the dignity of working.”

It turned out that the Clarkston community needed a workforce as badly as their
refugee neighbors needed jobs, Chancey explained. And that’s how Amplio
Recruiting was born: a staffing company that would build a bridge between private
businesses that needed labor and refugees in need of good, reliable work—and
which today reaches far beyond Clarkston, a multi-city staffing agency working to reconcile the 7.2 million open jobs in the United States with the massive rates of unemployment in displaced communities.

“We wanted to make an economic argument for hiring refugees,” he said, “and we
didn’t feel like that was being articulated,” which Chancey sought to rectify though
his book, Refugee Workforce: The Economic Case for Hiring the Displaced. The book,
published in September 2019, quickly became an Amazon bestseller, makes that
economic case, and helps translate the unique resources the refugee community has
to offer into the language of the private sector.

“The book itself is meant to say, we have falsely identified the refugee community in
the United States,” Chancey said, pointing out that refugees have a significantly
higher retention rate than average employees and are more likely to never fail a
drug test—and employers Chancey researched for the book consistently saw an
increase in productivity and profit. As such, Refugee Workforce serves as a blueprint
for businesses that haven’t had the chance to learn about what the refugees have to
offer.

Recent studies estimate more than 72 million people worldwide are living as
refugees. They will spend an average 26 years in camps or their host countries; few
expect to return to their home country. Still, governments, NGOs and businesses
treat the crisis as a temporary condition.

Over six years with Amplio Recruiting, Chancey has grown increasingly aware of the
scope of the refugee crisis, and the impact private business can make on it.
“We realized we were touching only a small percentage of the refugee population,”
Chancey said, “and we wanted to expand that.”

So Amplio has gone international, launching a venture capital fund, Amplio
Ventures, to invest in global job creation.

Amplio Ventures’ first project: raising $50 million to invest in for-profit companies
that provide a path to remote employment for refugees who are either waiting for
resettlement or for the opportunity to return to their home country.

“There are opportunities on many fronts—from individual grants to for-profit
companies—for both the companies and the refugees,” Chancey noted. “The refugee
crisis is an ongoing condition that requires ongoing infrastructure. But that also
means that a business investment in the refugee community is a sustainable one.”

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