Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey: Creating Opportunities for Refugee Education and Work

Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Refugee Education and Work
Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey

As the daughter of a Muslin father and Jewish mother raised catholic, bridging cultures is part of my inner-self. I personally experienced all kinds of misunderstandings — fell through the cultural gaps – but I also loved and learned how living together, finding a way to create harmony and understanding, that helped move us toward a compelling future together. This is vitally important to the world we live in today. I am not saying we should blur all differences, but we should appreciate the differences, learn from each other, and even celebrate the differences. Globalization has created a very large melting pot. America over the last century certainty, and in many other parts of the world where many cultures found themselves together,  were experiments in the transformative power of different cultures blending, learning and enjoying life together.

But some do not appreciate this diversity, nor do they have tolerance for those different than themselves. We saw this on Friday, November 13 in Paris. Since I was raised in France and lived in its capital for over 10 years, that attack was very personal.  While I did not know anyone who was directly impacted by this tragedy, we are all affected, and we will be for a long time to come.  The Paris attack s are yet another reset point in the continuing effect to establish peace and stability throughout the world.

Two years ago I made the decision to leave Microsoft, a company that I consider more or less the place where I I grew up, the company that created great learning experiences, including those that exposed me to the global technology market. As much as Microsoft contributed and participated in a number of philanthropic endeavors, I wanted to continue my personal journey at a company that created social impact at the core of the business, including its technology and its business model.

I joined Pearson English Business Solutions with a mission I could personally relate to. The impact of this division has been beyond my expectations. We’ve changed millions of lives and continue to help create a viable middle class in countries like Mexico and India.

Now, two years later, what amazes me the most is that this company continues to fight every day to keep innovation moving forward, to maintain its competitive advantage, to create a sustainable for-profit business, because it wants to be even more impactful tomorrow than it is today. Little did I know this was the beginning of finding a path that would align my heart, my soul and my brain.

I have a voice in my head telling me I have a role to play in bridging the cultures that are at the essence of my being. I want to bring my passion for seeking solutions to the global need for understanding and peace in a sustainable way. I see this as a core part of my personal mission.

When we understand our passion, and define our mission, we see opportunities in new ways.

On November 16, 2015, I was invited to the U.S. State Department to connect with other key policy makers, NGO leaders, donors and other private sector executives to seek about innovative ways to bridge the educational gap for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

This is critical because about a million Syrian refugee children lack primary and secondary education. Many refugee children have already lost five years of education, creating irreparable gaps. Many of these children are working because their parents cannot find work, nor obtain permits required to work. Young adults face a future with no educational paths – this creates short to midterm social pain and risks not only for the victims, but for the stability of the region. Many women face accelerated, forced marriages, while men often return to their home countries to fight or get radicalized, or both. If they stay in the countries to which they migrate, they often face underemployment, if not unemployment.

In order to address these issues, we need Innovation. I have outlined four areas of focus that we discussed during this visit:

Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey: Four Areas of Innovation

  1. Improved access to formal education
    • Privately fundtechnology-oriented schools.
    • Track achievement and attendance.
    • Fund educational program advisors.
    • Adopt a common communication/collaboration platform.
  2. Informal education
    • Vocational training and integration of Syrian refugee into the workforce.
    • Specialized classes: Catch up classes, hybrid digital supplements (literacy, numeracy, Turkish) and accelerated learning classes – Psychological, ESL, life skills, learning tools for parents.
    • Bridge-building after-school activities, exchanges between Turkish and Syrian children.
    • Content availability and access: Library without borders – Portable media center.
  3. Language learning
    • Provide access to Turkish and English – both general and professional.
    • Teach Turkish educators
    • Deploy digital tools: Online English learning tools; Bi-lingual online learning tool for children.
    • Bring communities together to dialogue: Language exchange programming to connect Turkish and Syrian children together – Global online community to connect people and resources.
    • Increase access to mentors and coaches from outside of the country by leveraging International resources such as the U.S retirees in Chicago who help Brazilian children master English online via Skype (see the Chicago Tribune article, Chicago-area seniors teach English to Brazilians, for more information).
  4. Vocational learning
    • Develop learning hubs for career-focused content.
    • Hire skilled Syrians or older siblings to be mentors in skills they have mastered.
    • Connect with local private sector to understand needs, and create a placement paths to jobs.
    • Test and certify skills so people can work in areas like education, health care, and engineering, along with skilled vocations like electrical repair and plumbing.
    • Engage with foreign outsourcing, in-house hiring, and freelancing platform companies such as Samasource, Andela and Upwork to provide work opportunities.
    • We are at the risk of losing many of those immigrating from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East to Turkey, throughout Europe and other locations. We risk losing them to radicalization, and perhaps to death. We risk losing their innovative insights by not finding ways to inspire them, by not giving them opportunities to transform ideas into products and services. We risk losing the knowledge and expertise of educators and doctors, nurses and engineers who don’t align with national standards or hold the right certificates. For all of us, some part of our humanity is at risk if we don’t find a way to help avert these other risks. Now is the time.

Here are two actions to consider this holiday season. First, engage with agencies already on the ground in Turkey by volunteering to contributing. Two groups that already working hard on this problem are Unicef and Save the Children. Second, if you are working in a group, or in a company, seeking to solve any of the issues listed above, reach out to me through the comments so we can connect.

If you want to read more on the refugee issues in Turkey, here are additional resources to consider.