OPINION | As the chief executive of First State Super, I often consider the impact our investments have in the communities where our members live, work and retire.

For those of us working in the institutional investment industry, it can be easy to forget that how we allocate money today determines, to a significant degree, what the world will be like tomorrow.

The same can be said for the importance of investing in the people working within our own organisations. That is something I’ve come to appreciate in greater depth in recent times, through an important personal commitment quite apart from my day job.

For the last 17 years I have been a director of Australia for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the national partner of the UN Refugee Agency, which has raised more than $170 million over the last decade to help support and care for refugees in hotspots around the globe.

Working with Australia for UNHCR has brought me face to face with the tragedy of loss and displacement caused by conflict and natural disaster. It has also shown me the incredible power of the human spirit, resilience, and the capacity of people to overcome setbacks and rebuild their lives despite the odds.

The responsibility to help became even more apparent to me last year, when I took some leave from First State Super to join Tony Shepherd, Innes Willox, John Denton and a handful of other Australian business leaders on a visit to refugee camps near the Syrian border in Turkey and Lebanon. These countries host a large portion of the estimated 5.5 million people who have had to flee Syria since the civil war began in 2011.

The trip was organised as part of the Friendly Nation Initiative. Its purpose was to raise the profile of the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East and help build support for refugees and humanitarian migrants who arrive in Australia from Syria and Iraq.

Paths to employment

Economic empowerment is a crucial aspect of successful refugee settlement.

In recognition of this, the NSW Government established the Refugee Employment Support Program and asked Peter Shergold to direct the $22 million, four-year initiative to support as many as 7000 refugees and asylum seekers.

Settlement Services International is delivering the Refugee Employment Support Program on behalf of the NSW Government. The program began in May 2017 and in its first two months had already worked with close to 340 people, 40 of whom are now employed. Another 89 participants have enrolled into further study, while 51 are in the process of having their overseas qualifications recognised, and five secured work experience.

First State Super has joined leading organisations such as AMP, Allianz, Australia Post, Clayton Utz, Harvey Norman, Henry Davis York, NRMA, Telstra, Westpac, Transurban and Woolworths to support the initiative. We are working as an employment partner with CareerSeekers, an organisation assisting asylum seekers and refugees seeking professional employment.

CareerSeekers placed First State Super’s first paid intern with us in September 2016. He was a software engineering graduate of Al-Mansour University College in Baghdad and was such an excellent addition to our technology team that at the end of the 12-week program, we were delighted to offer him a full-time position, which he accepted. We are aiming to introduce two more interns before the end of 2017.

Forging change

Our involvement in these initiatives not only supports refugees seeking to get a foothold in the Australian workplace, it also supports First State Super in building a diverse and inclusive workplace that maximises the strengths of everyone who works here.

In addition to trying to shape the business practices of those companies we invest in to foster a better future, institutional investors like us should not overlook the positive changes we can make within our own organisations. The superannuation and financial services industry, like the business community more broadly, can make a difference here at home for people who face the enormous challenge of making their way in a new country.

Michael Dwyer is the chief executive of public offer superannuation fund First State Super.

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