Businesses, Commerce Department tackle refugee aid at UN

Sep 22nd, 2016 | By | Category: Government, Politics

By The U.S. Commerce Department/Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. Photo from the U.S. Commerce Department.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. Photo from the U.S. Commerce Department.

Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker hosted the President’s Call to Action Refugee Roundtable held in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly. President Obama joined the roundtable halfway through the discussion to hear the business leaders’ thoughts on how to address the refugee crisis.

Also on Tuesday, the White House announced that 51 companies have made commitments to aid refugees in the United States and around the world in response to the President’s June Call to Action. These include hosting refugee families, donating health care products to support doctors treating refugees, and providing resources that will support education and opportunities for refugee youth resettled in the United States.

In her remarks, Secretary Pritzker thanked the private sector leaders for their commitments to help solve the world’s refugee crisis. She discussed how corporations have a role in society to not only to meet customer needs and deliver profits for investors, but also to solve local and global problems.

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon. Just over two months ago, the White House issued a call to action asking American companies to join with us in responding to the global refugee crisis. Fifty-one companies heard that call and responded quickly with resolute action, and I want to personally thank you for your efforts.

Although the United States has contributed billions of dollars to meet the immediate humanitarian need of displaced people and plans to welcome 85,000 refugees this year, the President recognizes the private sector has an essential role to play in addressing this global crisis.

Today, private sector contributions vastly exceed Official Development Assistance. In fact, 91 percent of resources flowing from the U.S. to developing countries come from private sources. Your enthusiastic and diverse commitments demonstrate that the President is right that our business community is an indispensable partner in addressing the challenges of the global refugee crisis.

More than a century ago, my family fled the anti-Jewish pogroms in modern-day Ukraine to start a better life here in America. Like so many who escape persecution, my family came to this country with very little. But soon after his arrival, my great-grandfather found work – first as a newspaper delivery boy, and later as a tailor’s assistant and a pharmacist. He eventually earned his law degree and opened a law practice. My family prospered because they were able to get an education, find employment, and ultimately become entrepreneurs, first in law and later in business.

To ensure that today’s refugees have the same opportunities to thrive, the U.S. government understands that we need to partner with you – and companies like yours – to address the most pressing issues affecting refugees today: insufficient access to education and training, inability to find work, and the absence of basic necessities that enable refugees to become self-reliant, including access to housing, health care, and internet connectivity.

To solve these challenges, aid alone is not sufficient. We need private capital, which means working with and empowering our private sector. I call this concept commercial diplomacy.

To support this effort, the State Department and USA for the UN High Commission for Refugees launched a public-private partnership called the Partnership for Refugees. This initiative ensured that companies like yours who responded to the Call to Action had access to the necessary information to shape your commitments, so that were smart, responsive, and results-oriented. Overwhelmingly, the companies in this room answered the Call to Action not only by opening your checkbooks, but by creatively leveraging your core business assets to help those most in need.  We have commitments that pledge to:

  •          Temporarily host refugee families when long-term housing is not immediately available;
  •          Raise micro-loan capital to invest in refugee and host community small-business entrepreneurs;
  •          Create mobile phone-based economic profiles for refugees;
  •          Donate essential health care products to support volunteer physicians and dentists treating refugees;
  •          Provide resources and technologies to increase a focus on education, mental health and security for unaccompanied refugee minors and refugee women; and
  •          Leverage resources to support education and empowerment opportunities for refugee youth resettled in the United States.

You have made these commitments, because as CEOs, you understand that the role of a corporation in society is not only to meet customer needs and deliver profits for your investors, but also to solve local and global problems. You are essential partners and stakeholders in the global condition. And I want to personally thank you for using your position as business leaders to serve as a force for good. Before we dive into our discussion, I want to turn the floor over to my friend and colleague, Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President.

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