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Exclusive: Funding market-relevant education for refugees

Established with the aim of helping thousands of out-of-school young refugees continue their education, the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund supports refugee students in Jordan and Lebanon, and children affected by conflicts and disasters who are temporarily residing in the UAE.

Fund established by Emirati philanthropist HE Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair in 2018 to help refugees build sustainable lives Fund to disburse AED25 million to organizations supporting the education of over 10,000 young refugees in second round of funding First two of three rounds to see AED74 million supporting the education of over 17,000 youth in Jordan, Lebanon, UAE

For the past few decades, traditional education and vocational training have been essential to boost the employment rates within local economies in the Middle East. However, the syllabus for such education and training were mostly constructed around local market drivers and associated skills. With the rise of the fourth industrial revolution, markets are becoming globalized, where the flow of goods, services, and information is becoming seamless across borders. Thus, the requirements of the modern workforce have turned the spotlight to continuous learning and upskilling.

Leading businessmen and social entrepreneurs who are positively investing into the lives of the less fortunate in the region have begun taking cognizance of this, as well …

“Education transforms lives and contributes to building holistic and progressive communities. Now more than ever, the private sector needs to come together to create platforms that provide quality, inclusive and equitable education to refugees and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. We should also encourage partnerships between governments, businesses and individuals in boosting available local resources for education,” said HE Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair while addressing the need for education and the importance of upskilling refugees in the region.

Addressing present and future needs

The Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund announced the grantees of its second round of funding in Dubai last week. In this second round of funding, AED25 million will be disbursed to organizations supporting the education of over 10,000 young refugees. The grantees comprise eight beneficiaries from Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, including the Emirates Red Crescent in the UAE, UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency and Relief International in Jordan, and Unite Lebanon Youth Project (ULYP), Beit Atfal Assumoud, Alfanar, Digital Opportunity Trust and War Child Holland in Lebanon.

"I think we are moving in the right direction. As you know, culturally, we don't speak about our philanthropy, but more and more, I am encouraging people to come out and talk about it to encourage other people as well. So, we don't also repeat. We are all working on the same segment, same issues. We want to have diversity in our philanthropy. We want to run them as institutions. We want to run them for impact – it's not for show. We have to see impact on the ground. We run them almost with KPIs. We run them like our businesses because it is serious,” HE Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair said speaking exclusively to AMEinfo.

While attempting to bridge the known gaps of linguistic skill requirements, this fund also opens out avenues to look prepare refugees with future job skills including personal skills such as creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork, as well as technical skills such as artificial intelligence, robotics, analytics, making proper use of data, understanding relevant solutions and trying to come up with creative solutions for it.

"75 percent of our graduates get offered a job before they graduate, which is phenomenal. This is because when we set a scholarship, it is not entirely based on whatever you want to study. We study the market, we find a gap in the market, we understand that there is a gap in this area, and we direct our scholarships towards that specific study," HE Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair told AMEinfo.

Overcoming educational barriers

Speaking about the three main barriers that need to be addressed in order to prepare refugees for the international market, Marianne Bitar Karam, MENA Regional Lead of DOT Global, pointed to language, digital literacy, and advanced digital skills. 

"Language is a main barrier. If the refugee is to access international markets, remotely or physically, they cannot communicate; they cannot be productive. So, one, foremost is English. English is the major skill needed for refugees. Two, digital literacy. Before moving on to catering to upcoming industries, digital literacy is a necessity. It's not about being able to use the phone or not. It's about productively using digital tools and devices in order to contribute to the economy. So, digital literacy comes next. And then, third comes advanced digital skills – be it on cybersecurity, on robotics, coding, web development, digital marketing etc.  So, we cannot move to very advanced skills if we don't start with the base," Marianne Karam said.