Why hiring refugees makes good business sense

I remember sitting in the taxi on my way to the airport and thinking: I feel like a part of this now, it’s important to me. And yet I am leaving it all behind.

It was the summer of 2017 and I had just spent a week at an Amnesty International activist camp in Lesvos in Greece, dedicated to campaigning for refugee rights and for welcoming societies in Europe. We were based in Pikpa, a small open refugee camp hosting around 150 people and had been sharing time with them, helping in their daily activities such as cleaning and just trying to be a friend during such a difficult phase in their lives.

Some of my own family members had moved to Argentina years ago after the Spanish civil war and my grandfather used to tell me stories about how welcome they were made to feel. I really wanted to pass that welcoming spirit on to people on the move now and help them to move forward in their new homes in Europe, so I had joined Amnesty’s I Welcome campaign.

But my week in Lesvos was now over and there was certainly more work to be done. I wondered how I could I continue to help from back home in Ireland? It dawned on me that the best way was by using what I had: my skills, professional experience and my network.

Finding work is vital to all of us not just to provide an income, but to retain a sense of dignity and self-sufficiency, to socialise, to contribute to – and feel part of – the society in which they live. And what could I offer? Employment.

When I got home, I set up a meeting with the then-Director of my company Liferay International in Dublin. We build software which helps companies create portals, intranets and commerce sites. He was immediately supportive, so we decided to allocate budget to creating a role specifically for a refugee.

We would offer a paid contract with a competitive salary where the employee would gain experience as part of our workforce. This would provide a foot on the career ladder, moving from being seen as a refugee to being seen as part of the workforce in the community they now call home.

We’ve already hired two refugees through the scheme and the second, Mavis, has just finished her contract with us.

Mavis and I met regularly for walks and a chat and one of the things she told me was how much confidence she’s gaining back. She said that we are helping her bounce back into the workforce like a trampoline and to look for a better future. It’s been great to get to know her and see how she’s grown in six months; to observe the things she’s learned and see her bring her own narrative to the role and become a much stronger individual.

But for Liferay this is about more than corporate social responsibility; it offers a genuine value exchange for companies as well as refugees. Hiring refugees is not an act of charity; it’s good business sense.

We, like many companies, want our workforce to represent a diverse society. We are a global business and it’s very important that our business represents a global workforce. By hiring refugees, existing employees get to enrich their working lives by learning from colleagues from other backgrounds.

Obviously we are just one enterprise. But the idea is to have a multiplier effect, inspiring other organizations to follow this example. It is definitely a win-win situation. It’s really easy to set up a scheme like this and it’s an idea that’s already gaining popularity.

Recently a new initiative called Open Doors began with the aim of creating work opportunities for all. Liferay plans to continue providing employment opportunities to refugees through this scheme. But it’s also a platform for companies to network.

Through this network, I hope that people can use the experience gained with Liferay and move on to larger organisations, who may be able to offer different or more permanent opportunities. And I hope that our story inspires other organisations to hire refugees and see the very real benefits for their business that Liferay has already started to experience.