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Talent Beyond Boundaries

We open pathways for refugees to use their skills and talents as a route out of displacement towards restored self-reliance and safety.

Photo of Madeline Holland

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Each year less than half a percent of the world’s 26 million refugees are resettled to countries where they can build new lives. Most refugees are stuck for years or even decades in countries which lack the resources to adequately integrate them into society, and where they cannot legally work. At the same time, employers globally face significant talent gaps. More than 6 million skilled jobs are unfilled in countries with established skilled immigration programs. Shortages are especially acute in less developed areas of countries like Canada and Australia, where the job vacancy rates in some communities grew by as much as 89% in just the last year. Where the world sees refugees as a problem to be solved, we see them as offering a solution to companies, communities, and countries in need of skills. Our model is for refugees to be able to use their skills and talents as their passport out of displacement and into meaningful work. TBB works on a global scale to change the systems that prevent refugees from accessing international employment opportunities. We work on the ground with skilled refugees in Jordan and Lebanon where more than 17,000 refugees have signed up on our “Talent Catalog,” a first-of-its kind online tool that captures skills, qualifications, and work experience. We help Canadian, Australian and other international employers identify the talented people in refugee situations that their businesses urgently need to grow, and offer refugees the resources and training they need to compete. We make it possible for companies to hire refugees and sponsor them and their families to relocate to a new life on a work visa, and build partnerships to help them thrive on the job. To date, TBB has proved our concept by helping 26 individuals to move to Australia, Canada and the UK where they can rebuild. With partnerships and support, we are convinced we can pioneer one of the most promising new durable solutions for refugees developed since WWII.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We work in Jordan and Lebanon, where many thousands of skilled Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian and other refugees cannot legally work or provide secure futures for their families. The dearth of routes to safety and opportunity has led to massive poverty and vulnerability and forced people to risk their lives in the hands of smugglers. At the same time, we work in countries including Canada and Australia to collaborate with employers and communities in need of talented people.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

We work with thousands of talented refugees in Jordan and Lebanon who need safe pathways to restart their lives. We’ve built relationships with 100+ leading global employers like Accenture and EY as well as SMEs in Australia, Canada and the UK who need new sources of talent to grow. We’re the only organization with the relationships, technology and strategy to build a bridge between them. When refugees migrate into jobs, it expands the community who know them as valued coworkers and neighbors.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Our team has conducted in-depth interviews and recruitment prep with over 500 people. In each encounter our takeaway message is the same: people are tired of being treated like their skills and ambitions don’t matter. Tariq, an engineer, explained to us: “I don’t want to take money from humanitarian organizations. I want to work. I want to continue to develop myself and my skills. Life deserves to be lived.” Those who have migrated have found it transformational. Fadi was born stateless, with no access to documentation or rights. Through TBB, Accenture recruited him to Sydney. “The moment I stepped on that plane I actually dared to start dreaming again,” he said. “Now I can actually think for the future. I can establish a career. I actually have goals for the next two and three years and I’ve never had that in my life. I felt I had a purpose now other than just surviving.”

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Our idea is expanding the range of options available to refugees to rebuild their lives; it’s generating new hope in situations that often feel hopeless. With the small numbers who moved through our pilot, we’ve seen thousands of new registrants on our Catalog and substantially increased engagement online. We see people brushing up their skills, finally seeing a reason to. We’ll know we’re creating positive change by listening to our refugee and employer partners. We track their experience in interviews at regular intervals. Through this ongoing exchange, we will learn how to refine and scale this solution well. We also track our success in hard data: # of individuals competing for international jobs; # of people migrating to full access to rights; # of companies engaged; # of governments expanding access to economic migration to refugees. We believe in the next 10 years, refugees moving via labor mobility can match the number of refugees currently moving via UNHCR resettlement.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

In 2014, millions of refugees were newly displaced and finding themselves in dire situations. From their work in development, Mary Louise and Bruce Cohen knew that skill gaps hinder growth in countries around the world. Surely, they thought, someone is connecting skilled refugees with opportunities globally where their skills are needed? When they learned it hadn’t been tried, they traveled to Beirut to talk to refugees who found the approach refreshing, dignifying, and urgently needed.

These conversations convinced the Cohens to spend their time and own resources to launch TBB. Soon they encountered entrepreneur and philanthropist John Cameron who had independently reached the same conclusion. As an employer, John had sponsored foreign workers to fill gaps and it seemed common sense that refugees should be included in this international talent pool.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

We work with refugees in Jordan and Lebanon who are working age and have a skill or trade. Our Talent Catalog of over 17,000 individuals includes thousands of healthcare workers, skilled trades people, IT professionals, engineers and more; from this pool, employers identify those who meet their needs. Many have been displaced for many years and have previously attempted to migrate, filing failed visa applications or working with smugglers. While they'd like to work abroad, because of their displacement, many are missing the documentation, information, money, or relationships to make it happen without TB's support. It is illegal for them to work in a majority of fields, and those who are able to secure a job report to us they make less than their non-refugee counterparts or are under threat of termination. They have no access to local banking, and many have spent down their savings. Those with irregular status have limited mobility and risk detention or possible deportation.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Labor mobility is inherently based on refugees’ strengths rather than their vulnerabilities. TBB’s Talent Catalog asks candidates to share information about their work experience, education, skills, and language abilities. On the basis of this, TBB is able to match them with employers concerned first and foremost with the value they could bring to their business. This isn’t to say that skilled refugees aren’t vulnerable. Irrespective of their skills, refugees face challenges on account of their displacement, lack of access to fundamental rights and often because of the trauma and family separation they’ve experienced during conflict. Our solution doesn't ignore these challenges; rather, we help refugees to leverage their skills to overcome them. Our solution also draws on the inherent strengths of employers -- workplaces are among the most powerful engines of integration. When a refugee arrives directly into employment, they have a strong sense of purpose, community, and belonging.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

TBB has a cooperation agreement with the UN Refugee Agency which coordinates policy with TBB and supports our Jordan and Lebanon operations. Employers are critical partners in our efforts, and run competitive remote recruitment processes to identify candidates from our pool. Governments are an essential partner in addressing the systemic barriers that make it uniquely challenging for refugees to move on the basis of their skills. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the Department of Home Affairs in Australia receive policy insight directly from TBB and have assigned operational counterparts to assist us in our operations. We partner with refugee-led organizations including RefugeeTalent and Jumpstart, to support our employer outreach. We partner with settlement service providers to help our candidates access services in their new hometowns. Legal service providers are essential partners in filing successful visa applications.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Early Adoption: We have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have proof of user uptake (i.e. 16% to 49% of the target population or 1,000 to 50,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Talent Beyond Boundaries

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Our lean team excels at multiple levels of engagement and in diverse contexts: we directly serve individual refugees and employers and we deliver recommendations directly to national governments. We have small offices in each of the places we currently operate -- Amman, Jordan; Beirut, Lebanon; Toronto, Canada; and Melbourne, Australia. We have a headquarters in Washington, DC. With 11 full time paid staff, our operations are lean. We draw on robust partnerships to support candidate referral, corporate outreach, migration, and successful settlement, and we make use of an extensive network of pro bono support as well as an actively engaged Board. Our Board brings decades of experience from the highest levels of government, entrepreneurship, and law. Leadership brings long histories of work in refugee response, and directors in each of the communities we work in are locals who bring deep knowledge of the context.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Washington, DC

In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

We ensure our candidates and their families are linked up with "settlement service" providers in the communities where they land -- local organizations that help newcomers access critical services. In some jurisdictions, these service providers are very centralized, and it's straightforward to build partnerships with a few key players. In other jurisdictions, these services are highly fragmented, varying from neighborhood to neighborhood. In those jurisdictions, it's more challenging to build the same consistency of partnerships -- would love ideas on navigating the latter situation!

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

During the Improve Phase, our team members sat down in person with every one of the candidates who has migrated through our program into employment. We visited people in their homes and workplaces -- taking us to Toronto, Mississauga and Niagara Falls in Canada, as well as Sydney, Melbourne, and Harvey in Australia -- for long-form conversations about their greatest challenges and successes, and are integrating their feedback on what resources would be useful into our standard processes. 

As a result of these conversations, we’ve begun engaging spouses earlier in our process and ensuring they receive English language and training resources before they migrate. We’re also sharing more info about destination cities and costs of living with candidates before they accept job offers, or linking them to community groups who can help them get a more realistic picture of what life might be like.

All our candidates who have moved have joined our team Slack workspace, where they can be part of ongoing conversation about improvement along with a broad range of partners.

One of our ambassadors, Nabil, joined us for a video call with a BridgeBuilder mentor to share his experience with TBB. Mahmoud helped us think about how to communicate more clearly about our role, and gave us a few rounds of feedback on our user experience map. 

We shared questions about partnership building in fragmented markets for expert feedback, and are building that into how we structure a new partnership in our Canadian market.

We also had dozens of conversations with refugees, regional employment groups, employers, settlement partners, lawyers, government officials, multilaterals, and civil society groups. We see ourselves as a catalyst, building and empowering the network of players who can make it possible for refugees to participate in the global labor market. 

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

Most funding programs, even many focused on migration, are geographically limited. TBB is a global organization -- our operations span multiple locations, including countries that refugees first fled to and countries that we are helping refugees move to. This international footprint is essential to managing a seamless and accountable process for our candidates and employers, but it can limit our ability to apply for and allocate funding. BridgeBuilder’s global focus is a strong fit for our work. Approximately $200,000 over two years would let us grow our teams enough to provide solutions for additional refugees while carrying out critical learning about eventual greater scale.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

Funding is our primary constraint to connecting more talented refugees with a route to a new life. 

In Canada, 40+ employers have expressed interest in hiring one or more candidates through TBB in the next year alone. There are hundreds of candidates we work with who could meet their needs, but we can only address the demand with additional capacity in Canada, as well as additional capacity in Jordan and Lebanon to work directly with refugee talent and prepare them for international recruitment and migration. BridgeBuilder Funds would allow us to hire needed staff and fund key partnerships to rapidly increase our capacity to connect more refugees with jobs and a route to rebuild their lives in Canada. This increased capacity would allow us to carry out key tests (outlined below) that inform our route to greater scale.

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

-Test “pipeline” approach. Partner with regional development networks to create recruitment pipelines to multiple businesses and with multinationals to create larger recruitment programs.

-Test sustainable finance options. Grow partnerships with microfinance groups and establish revolving loans to make sure candidates have access to needed finance and increase our model’s sustainability.

-Solidify advocacy gains. Capitalize on our partnerships with governments to solidify the policy progress over the last two years.

-Expand training partnerships. Several candidates suggested we explore additional English language training options.

-Identify geographies for expansion. We receive dozens of emails a week from refugees all over the world asking when TBB’s program will open there. We also see countries around the globe desperate for skills. We’ll consolidate our learnings to date to analyze where and when to grow.

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

By the start of 2022: Approximately 450 people will have moved to countries where they can build a safe and stable future. The 150 primary applicants will have resumed their careers in their areas of expertise. More than 100 international companies will have successfully recruited with TBB, integrating refugees into their international talent sourcing. 3 destination countries will have documented pathways to admit refugees for employment.

Outstanding questions: As a catalyst, our goal is to create the knowledge, infrastructure, and pathways that enable existing actors to take on key elements of this work. We are continually designing with a mind to embed what we learn with other stakeholders and reduce our own footprint over time. Our tests upcoming are designed to help us learn what core brokering functions we must continue to play in the short term, and what areas are best implemented by partners. Our learnings will be central to informing strategy and growth.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

Our team’s strength lies in our adaptability to the range of contexts in which we need to operate across geographies and sectors, and at the local, national and international levels. Our core staff have been working together for 3 years. Our Board of Directors/Founders bring long experience in policy-making as well as tech entrepreneurship to bear on our government engagement and strategic planning. Our ED is an expert in refugee protection, and our MD has been helping build and iterate TBB’s processes from the start. Our destination country teams have built critical relationships within governments and robust partnerships with refugee-led, employment-oriented groups, networks of lawyers, settlement groups, and employers who are co-champions for our cause. Our Lebanon and Jordan teams are deeply familiar with the context and attuned to changes. The refugees who have moved, our Ambassadors, are key partners in improving our work and demonstrating its value.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

1. We're in the process of formalizing a partnership in our less centralized market in the coming weeks. We'll put a focus on co-developing strong tools and comms for replicability.

2. Our Mentor's detailed questions encouraged us to “make it visual” and we iterated our user experience map with his help to better illustrate the nuts and bolts of how it works. Mahmoud has also joined our online global network on Slack to share ideas about TBB's fundraising and communications.

3. We had conversations with our government counterparts in Canada and Australia, our employer partners, our settlement agency partners, and UNHCR. We're in constant contact with these and other key players to continually refine our work.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Brittany Boettcher

Hello, I wanted to respond to your expert feedback questions. What wonderful work you are doing!

It will be easier to enter a fragmented market if you have a very solid solution set and communications tool for sharing your offering. I recommend that you focus on the centralized market to test communications and partnership building tools and then bring the most successful ones to the fragmented markets when ready. In the fragmented markets, identify the nodes of people/organizations that are most well connected/networked and prioritize developing those partnerships. Thank about how you can empower other local actors in the more fragmented areas to adopt your model and implement in a way that is appropriate for the local context. You don’t have to be the sole implementor in every community, this allows you to go deep in places where you can and build the capacity of others in areas that are more difficult for you to reach.

Photo of Madeline Holland

Thanks Brittany Boettcher ! I love the idea of a phased approach and making sure we're taking what we're learning from the centralized to the decentralized -- also appreciate the focus on comms. As we test some partnerships in those more centralized "nodes" like you mentioned, sounds like we need to bake in a real focus on documentation so key elements are easy to replicate. We really appreciate your time!

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