World Refugee Fund

John Kluge (from left) and Christine Mahoney are accompanied by an interpreter during a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan in November.

Alight Fund, a Charlottesville-based startup, has partnered with several organizations to bring financial support to refugees in order to create opportunities, better their livelihoods and contribute back to their host country.

In line with World Refugee Day on Tuesday, the World Refugee Fund was developed by Alight Fund and Kiva, an international nonprofit that assists and connects people through lending to alleviate poverty. The fund allows anyone to help crowdfund a person’s loan request through Kiva’s website, supporting displaced people and their host communities.

John Kluge and his wife, Christine Mahoney, a professor at the University of Virginia, co-founded the Alight Fund, which is a for-profit investment fund that aims to assist refugee and host country entrepreneurs.

The Tent Foundation, a non-governmental organization working to improve the livelihoods of those forcibly displaced from their homes, and USA for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a nonprofit that helps refugees and others displaced by violence, are founding partners in the fund, as well.

Kluge said the idea to start the fund came from Mahoney’s work researching global displacement for the last several years, which became her book “Failure and Hope: Fighting for the Rights of the Forcibly Displaced.”

“She found a sort of depressing fact, and that is that over the last 60 years of humanitarian work on behalf of refugee populations, there has been very little progress in terms of changing right to work, or freedom of movement, policies in the countries that most typically host the vast majority of refugees,” Kluge said.

In his wife’s book, Kluge said Mahoney suggests an approach to the refugee crisis that combines the humanitarian approaches and long-term sustainable solutions that allow refugees to support not only themselves but the host countries they live in through economic opportunities.

In 2015, more than 65 million people were displaced in the world, and displacement on average now lasts more than 26 years, according to the United Nations’ website.

Mahoney and Kluge decided last year to act on this idea of helping people in these situations to obtain loans in order to better themselves and the country they now live in.

“It’s not just about serving refugees, but also serving the host communities where these refugees are living, which is something that is equally important and something that we’re looking to focus on with this fund, as well,” said Lev Plaves, senior portfolio manager at Kiva for the Middle East.

The loans made at Kiva will be matched dollar-for-dollar while available funds last.

In 2016, Kiva was able to crowdfund more than $1 million in loans to displaced populations, through 1.6 million lenders at a 97 percent repayment rate, according to its website.

Anyone interesting in contributing can make a loan of $25 or more at Kiva.org/Refugees. As lenders are repaid, they will be able to lend the same money again on Kiva.org or withdraw it.

Kluge said the World Refugee Fund is launching in Lebanon, Jordan, Colombia, Rwanda and “hopefully, eventually” in Turkey.

“We’re really excited to kind of start seeing this paradigm shift of one away from just a humanitarian focus to addressing the refugee crisis and one that looks at long-term sustainable solutions and livelihoods and income generating projects for refugees,” Plaves said.

Anne-Marie Grey, executive director and CEO of USA for UNHCR, said an indirect benefit of this fund is it gives Americans a chance to get involved in the refugee crisis and provide help, even if it’s at the “micro level.”

“It’s connecting interested and compassionate Americans directly with refugees that need resources, but it’s doing it through a mechanism of social enterprise, and it’s a win-win,” she said.

More information about the fund can be found at Kiva.org/Refugees.

“This is the beginning, and it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to prove that self-reliance and integration between refugees and the countries that host them is not only possible, but is tremendously beneficial for everybody,” Kluge said.

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Michael Bragg is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7265, mbragg@dailyprogress.com or @braggmichaelc on Twitter.

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