Facebook, Google, other tech giants answer Obama's refugee plea

President Obama says 51 US companies, including major tech players, will provide money, training and tech to help millions of refugees.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

This is part of our Road Trip 2016 summer series "Life, Disrupted," about how technology is helping with the global refugee crisis -- if at all.

The US tech industry is stepping up in the global refugee crisis.

Tech leaders are among 51 companies "investing, donating, or raising" more than $650 million for the education, training and employment of 6.3 million refugees in 20 countries.

Microsoft, TripAdvisor, HP and Google will help more than 80,000 children in refugee camps get an education, President Barack Obama said Tuesday at the Leaders Summit on Refugees at the United Nations.


President Obama addresses the General Assembly at the UN for the last time.

Sarah Tew/CNET

"You have companies like Accenture, Western Union, and LinkedIn that are going to help with internships, skills training and job placement," he said. "Today's commitment means that we're going to be creating employment opportunities for more than 220,000 refugees."

The UN estimates that in 2015 alone, conflicts and persecution "forcibly displaced" 65.3 million people worldwide, the biggest forced displacement since World War II. The UN has classified 21.3 million of them as refugees. The sheer enormity of those numbers placed a heavy burden on just 10 countries, Obama said. (Read CNET's special report on tech's impact on the refugee crisis in "Life, Disrupted.")

In June, the White House unveiled an initiative aimed at getting "measurable and significant commitments" from the private sector. Google, Microsoft, HP and IBM were among the 15 companies that helped found the initiative.

The list of companies that responded to the president's call to action also include Airbnb, Autodesk, Coursera, SAP, TripAdvisor, Twilio, Uber, Udemy and Zynga, the White House said.

"For these companies to put themselves out there on behalf of the most vulnerable citizens in the world," Obama said, is an "extraordinary gesture of compassion."

Google said it will also contribute a $1 million grant to the Clooney Foundation for Justice, established by actor George Clooney and his wife, Amal, to help educate Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. Google has already donated $16.5 million to other humanitarian efforts.

Microsoft plans to team with local providers to deliver wireless broadband to refugees and international aid organizations in Malawi, and it's teaming with HP to provide tech training in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. That training will lead to certifications that qualify them for worker visa programs instead of requiring that they go through the more laborious government refugee process.

"President Obama realizes this issue isn't going away anytime soon," said Nate Hurst, chief sustainability and social impact officer for HP. "Refugees are living in camps for decades. For some people, these are their new homes."

Airbnb last year began working with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to provide accommodations for relief workers. The company said Tuesday it's going to expand its efforts by helping refugees find temporary housing. It will also provide new ways to earn a living by hosting local experiences, such as cooking a Syrian meal.

"As the crisis evolves, we continue to work with our partners to identify new and meaningful ways we can contribute," said Kellie Bentz, global head of disaster response and relief for Airbnb.

Uber said it plans to pitch in by working with US resettlement agencies to help refugees become drivers for its ride-hailing service.

Uber said it hopes to help connect potential drivers with affordable, low-risk leases and auto discounts. It's also created the UberGIVING donation campaigns with groups like Save the Children and the French Red Cross to use its app to prompt riders to donate items, like shoes and sleeping bags, and then collect them on-demand using vehicles already on the Uber platform.

Obama thanked the companies for answering his call to action for "doing good."

"This isn't charity," he said. "This is part of their overall mission and makes good business sense."