There is an old saying that you never really know a man until you walk in his shoes and as part of MasterCard’s activities at the World Economic Forum in Davos, we were able to do just that. We are one of the partners to an incredible organization called the Crossroads Foundation that created a simulation designed to provide a unique perspective on “A day in the life of a refugee”.
Now I am not going to lie to you. For me, the thought of going through a simulation of a refugee experience did bring out a little of my inner cynic. Could it be possible to showcase the plight of a refugee from a European ski resort? Would I, and my fellow executive participants, really allow ourselves to be transported physically and mentally to the horrors of fleeing your home and all that is familiar in search of safety?
The short answer is yes. For an hour and a half this week, I cowered from explosions, was crammed into basic tents with strangers and was stripped of my dignity and identity in order to experience what some millions of refugees are going through right now.
All of us have read the news and seen the pictures of the refugee crisis – the mass exodus of a population that has created a sea of people on the move. What I hadn’t done before now is spend time to consider how bad life must be in order to leave your home, leave your possessions and embark on a perilous journey towards an uncertain future.
This humbling experience also made me proud of what MasterCard is doing to help displaced populations regain a little bit of the dignity and control that their experiences have stripped them of. For me, it was a basement in Davos and actors carrying guns who stripped me of my wedding ring and stole my identity and papers. Unlike the refugees, I was able to walk away from the experience and return to my life. When a refugee reaches a safe destination in need of an identity, food and shelter they are actually no closer to what they really want.
Through our work with NGOs and the creation of platforms like the MasterCard Aid Network, we are able to provide a small ray of light and helping hand that drives independence, inclusion and integration. And sometimes it is the small ray of hope that you need to focus on because what I did learn from the refugees, who spoke to me after my experience, was that all a refugee really wants is to go home. And for the millions of displaced people wishing to return home, that dream is still a long way off.