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Tina Casey headshot

Standing Up for Climate Refugees In Latin America

By Tina Casey
Climate Refugees

The plight of climate refugees is becoming more dire across the globe. This crisis is not going away any time soon, no matter what the U.S. and other nations do to harden their borders. A more sustainable, holistic solution is needed, and the nonprofit organization Tent Partnership for Refugees has set a course that puts corporate leadership on the front lines for action.

The Tent Partnership for Refugees and next-level corporate responsibility

Tent launched in 2016, in response to a “Call for Action” issued by then-President Barack Obama. President Obama urged corporate leaders to provide help by applying their own knowledge base and corporate resources to the problem, rather than simply providing cash grants to third parties.

That hands-on, collaborative approach to corporate charity has been gathering steam in recent years, and Tent rapidly attracted interest. More than 100 companies currently participate in Tent, including Accenture, IBM, KPMG, Sodexo and Starbucks. These companies use Tent as a platform for sharing best practices, and for enlisting additional support.

The crisis grows for climate refugees in Latin America

Tent’s latest initiative focuses on the refugee crisis in Latin America. In particular, the organization is focusing on aid for countries that are hosting refugees from Venezuela, where severe drought has contributed to both political and economic upheaval, leading millions to flee the country.

To get a handle on the scope of the problem, Tent engaged in a research project with the firm GBAO Strategies. The project included interviews with 600 refugees from Venezuela living in Colombia and Peru.

The interviews provide ample support for the view that the climate refugee crisis is a long-term trend that will continue to grow. As described by Tent, the research shows that “Venezuelans are likely to continue to flee in substantial numbers,” and those who have already fled are unlikely to return for many years.

An untapped talent pool

Colombia, Peru and other countries in the region have been accepting refugees from Venezuela (as shown in the photo of Colombian police escorting Venezuelan refugees across the nation’s northeastern border), but they are reaching their capacity to absorb the flood of new job seekers.

Though the host countries are doing a relatively good job of meeting the basic needs of refugees, the Tent survey revealed that most refugees are unable to integrate into the local economy.

Work is widely available, but salaries are “meager,” and access to health care, banking and other key services is also limited.

The survey did find one key to a potential solution. It found that just one in six Venezuelans were in the same field as they were in Venezuela, indicating that refugee host countries could be sitting on a pool of new talent that could help stimulate economic growth, if productively applied.

Creating jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for climate refugees

Tent is zeroing in on the skill sets angle, in partnership with the Luis Alberto Moreno of the Inter-American Development Bank  and Hamdi Ulukaya, the owner, founder, chairman and CEO of the popular U.S.-based yogurt brand Chobani.

The idea is to encourage leading companies to create thousands of new jobs in host countries and provide more support for local businesses.

The effort launched on September 23 with commitments from more than 20 companies including Airbnb, Telefonica, Teleperformance and Sodexo.

The initial commitment totals more than 4,500 new jobs for refugees and support for more 2,000 refugee-owned businesses. The participating companies have also pledged to improve access to services for more than 110,000 refugees.

In a press release announcing the new initiative, Ulukaya emphasized the opportunity for economic growth in the host country.

Refugee passion and perseverance is just waiting to be unlocked,” he said. “When given the chance, refugees will make your companies stronger, smarter and faster. But it’s up to us to open the door and provide the opportunity for human dignity.”

How 20 years of diplomacy set the stage

The Tent initiative provides businesses with a solid, bottom line opportunity to grow their operations while providing solutions to a global crisis.

There is much more to the story, though. One additional thread concerns Colombia itself. During the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York City last week, participants in a public panel discussed how Colombia has shed its violent past, and has created a more welcoming, secure environment for leading businesses.

The panelists — including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and current Colombia President Iván Duque Márquez — described a decades-long diplomatic effort, spearheaded by the U.S., that enabled Colombia to reduce drug crime and stabilize its political situation.

Without that groundwork, the new Tent initiative would have little to offer companies that are willing to invest in Colombia.

The refugee crisis and a green new deal for Latin America?

Another important thread concerns Colombia’s decision to adopt the mantle of a regional environmental trailblazer. During the discussion, President Duque cited a long list of accomplishments, including a clampdown on illegal deforestation and a multi-nation pact to protect the Amazon.

That strategy has also contributed to the country’s ability to attract investors, as affirmed by panelist Bruce Flatt, CEO of Brookfield Asset Management. Flatt emphasized that the company is highly selective about the countries in which it does business.

Among Brookfield’s criteria is respect for international standards, and Colombia’s position as an environmental leader has placed it in a good position to take advantage of the emerging global consensus on climate action.

Federica Mogherini, who is Vice President of the European Commission, was also on the panel. She underscored the importance of job creation for current citizens as well as refugees.

Mogherini pointed out that Colombia’s progress on making peace with the rebel group FARC has helped to attract public sector investment as well as private sector interest.

“Job creation is part of the success story of the peace implementation with FARC,” she explained. “Disarmament needs to be supported and sustained.”

Climate refugees and the global battle for democracy

As President Clinton emphasized, Colombia is emerging as a test case for countries to host climate refugees as part of a sustainable development plan.

In that regard, Colombia is also a test for the ability of democratic governments to create new green jobs.

Clinton pointed out that Colombia is “committed to a green energy future that doesn’t destroy the world on the rocks of climate change.”

“There is no better test of democracy today than Colombia,” he said. “Colombia is embracing more democracy, not less. They are embracing their neighbors, not turning them away. They are bucking the xenophobic trend around the world.”

Don’t forget: Later this month, we’ll be hosting 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What's Next, October 29-30, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C. Included in our lineup of 90-plus speakers will be a conversation on what disasters can tell us about the climate crisis and resilience planning.

We're pleased to offer 3p readers a 25 percent discount on attending the Forum. Please register by going to the 3BL Forum website and use this discount code when prompted: NEWS2019BRANDS.

Image credit: Policia Nacional de Colombia/Wiki Commons

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey