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Risk and Reward

How to Unlock Refugees' Potential

A Syrian refugee boy who works at bicycle repair shop in the Al-Zaatri refugee camp in Jordan, September 17, 2016. Muhammad Hamed / Reuters

Over the past four years, the Zaatari refugee camp along Jordan’s border with Syria has undergone a jarring transformation. What was once a desolate desert settlement has become a bustling, oddly vibrant city of 80,000. Virtually every one of its residents has suffered unimaginable loss and needs help from the international community, but they aren’t just waiting for it. In the forest of tents and prefabricated homes, barbers and teachers, fruit vendors and bakers—all Syrian refugees—are playing a role in their local economy.

It is a phenomenon we have witnessed before in working with people who’ve fled violent conflict in places such as Darfur, Lebanon, and Iraq. After losing everything, many displaced people have the resilience and resourcefulness to try again. And that begs a question: Why are these individuals, with their varied backgrounds and talents, so seldom viewed as an economic opportunity? It is a

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