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Responding to the global refugee crisis

A McKinsey team, along with Bridge International Academies and non-profits Basmeh & Zeitooneh and Vitol Foundation, is developing a curriculum for robust, low-cost tablets to help educate refugee children.

– More than 59 million people globally are classified by the United Nations as “forcibly displaced,” the highest number since the Second World War. The conflict in Syria alone has displaced at least 11 million people, around 4 million of whom have taken refuge outside the country.

We’re working behind the scenes to support the responses of governments, nongovernmental organizations, and not for profits in many parts of the world. “This mass movement of people is more than a passing news story—it’s a global phenomenon that will have lasting effects,” says Khaled Rifai, a German-born, New York-based partner with Syrian roots, who is coordinating our work on refugee projects.

When the scale of the crisis in Syria started to become clear, Markus Gstöttner, a consultant based in our London office, started looking for ways McKinsey could help. He recalls, “After several visits to the region and extensive research, it became clear that providing education for refugee children was an issue where our strengths as an institution overlapped with needs on the ground.”

Today he leads a team of McKinsey volunteers on a project to deliver schooling to some of the 500,000 Syrian children who are refugees in neighboring Lebanon. The team, which includes Syrian and Lebanese colleagues, is working in partnership with education provider Bridge International Academies, local not for profit Basmeh & Zeitooneh, and Vitol Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Dutch energy company. Working together, the group has developed a tailored curriculum that can be delivered to students by teachers using robust, low-cost tablets.

“Faced with this number of children, there simply aren’t enough teachers available to deliver conventional schooling,” says Markus. “The Bridge platform can be used by volunteers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to teach. It provides structure and content right down to the level of scripts for individual lessons.”

The model has been piloted with refugee children living on the outskirts of Beirut, and the team hopes to reach around 1,500 primary-school-age children directly by the end of this year. The curriculum is open source, enabling other organizations to use it to deliver education programs across Lebanon and eventually in other countries too.

No less important, we’ve been working with the United Nations Development Programme, the UK government, and others to stimulate economic development in the region. In January, at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, we chaired a meeting of global business leaders hosted by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Queen Rania of Jordan. Our work paved the way for a donor conference in February in London which resulted in monetary pledges of over $10 billion—the largest sum ever pledged on a single day.

Of course the impact of the Syrian crisis is being felt outside the region too. European countries are struggling to deal with hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking asylum from war or opportunities for a more prosperous life. McKinsey teams are working with federal and regional government agencies to strengthen their capacity to respond.

In the words of Kalle Bengtsson, a Stockholm-based partner who leads our Public Sector Practice in Western Europe, “Our mission is to serve our clients on their most challenging problems. For many European governments right now there is no bigger issue than balancing urgent humanitarian needs with the need to integrate refugees and migrants into society.”