Embark: What corporate leadership can learn from refugees

7 Nov 2018

By Nyla Khan, Insights Director at Xynteo

You've heard of 'Doctors without Borders', right? I've often wondered how I could do something similar – utilise my own professional skills to serve human needs which don't stop at the borders. This year, I did just that – helped to empower talented young Syrian refugees to better integrate into business and society to enrich their lives in Turkey. Last year, I led a team of global leaders, from Unilever, Mastercard and the International Committee of the Red Cross, through an ideation process as part of the Leadership Vanguard, focussed on the challenges of integrating Syrian refugees in Turkey. Turkey is home to the largest number of Syrians outside of Syria. With more than half of them under the age of 35 and many holding higher education qualifications, they offer a huge talent pool with the potential to uplift Turkey's economy. Alas, misinformation, red tape and mistaken assumptions about refugees' skills and education continue to impede securing of meaningful work for many of them. We spent months unravelling the interconnected challenges they face, via co-creation sessions with young Syrians in Istanbul and the southern Turkish city of Sanilurfa. Then came the light bulb moment: Embark.

The light bulb moment!

Embark is a "reverse mentoring" service, connecting young, talented refugees with business leaders to build meaningful connections, spotlight the often-overlooked potential of migrants, and explore pathways to their fuller inclusion in host economies. There is incredible value in pairing people with different cultural backgrounds or life experiences to challenge assumptions and build bridges. This is the type of stuff that helps to build a more inclusive economy. This video from our spring launch brings Embark to life, and fills me with enormous pride. There's an even more compelling reason for businesses to be involved – imagine a market opportunity the size of Norway's population? Even with a 10 per cent conversion rate, that's a sizeable growth prospect for most businesses. The Syrian diaspora in Turkey represent a currently underserved community, and Embark offers business leaders an opportunity to develop deeper insights and relationships to better understand the benefits this may also create for their business. I really applaud the leadership of Embark partners, Unilever and Mastercard in pioneering unlikely and innovative approaches to boost community cohesion in their markets, and I believe we'll see more businesses doing the same over the coming months and years.

Our story so far

We launched the Embark pilot in the spring of 2018, in partnership with Unilever and non-profits, GDN and United Work, and the results have been strong. A post-pilot evaluation revealed that Embark helped refugee mentors to:

  1. Gain new soft skills, develop career plans and receive support for personal growth
  2. Feel empowered to start their own businesses
  3. Secure employment (with several citing their mentee's guidance through the hiring process)

Odai Al Hashmi

"Embark is a place where you bring two people from completely different worlds and let them discover how much they have in common, and just how much they can learn from each other, and even be of help to each other." Odai Al Hashmi (Syrian mentor)

Meanwhile, the Unilever mentees:

  1. Deepened their understanding of the Syrian market in Turkey
  2. Discovered and recruited overlooked talent (including one mentor hired)
  3. Learned about new technology, trends, and social media

Harm Goossens and Rama

"When I first looked at Rama, I saw a refugee and after talking to her, I now see a young and talented student." Harm Goossens, Executive Vice President Turkey, Central Asia and Iran, Unilever (mentee). Harm is currently developing an app with his mentor, Rama, who is a software engineer and recently graduated first in her class. I'm pleased to say we've already kicked off a second cohort of mentor-mentee pairs, with Unilever doubling its commitment and Mastercard joining to expand our impact further.

Scaling our ambition – partner with us!

I have high hopes for the impact Embark can continue to make. From next year, our aim is to apply our business model, adapting it as needed, to support refugee and host communities beyond Turkey. Embark has the potential for far-reaching and systemic change.

We are seeking to expand business partnerships to support our ambition to scale to some additional four-six new geographies in 2019. Potential markets we're currently considering for next year include Germany, Greece, Lebanon, Colombia, Canada, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Next week in Paris

From 9-13 November, alongside the Embark team, I will be at the Paris Peace Forum, hosted by President Macron (and later in the month at the Xynteo Exchange/ Norway) - do seek us out if you'll be there! I am excited that Embark is one of 120 projects shortlisted from over 850 applicants, giving us a perfect platform to connect with organisations that share our vision to turn Embark into a truly global movement.

Want to make an impact? Let's make it happen together. If you'd like to talk about partnering with Embark, or just learn more about the programme, you can reach me at nk@xynteo.com.