World Refugee Day: SAP Accelerates Global Partnerships to Boost Education for Displaced Youth

June 20 has been designated by the United Nations as World Refugee Day to honor refugees for their courage and resilience. At least 100 million people around the world have been displaced due to persecution, conflict, and violence, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

As we know, education is the key to unlocking change. It creates a ripple effect to solve many social and environmental issues far beyond economic growth. And with almost 75 million children experiencing interrupted education each year because of conflict, emergency, and disaster, SAP Corporate Social Responsibility (SAP CSR) has increased its efforts to mitigate this negative impact.

Optima School in Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has emphasized the plight of refugees, many of whom face closed borders, discrimination, and inhumane treatment when they attempt to flee their home countries. And 1.5 million of refugees from Ukraine are children.

In a recent discussion with Justin van Fleet, executive director of Global Business Coalition for Education and president at Theirworld, he outlined the impact of the Ukraine war on education and said that refugees make us think about the urgent need for humanitarian relief: food, water, shelter, and clothing. He also noted that we must ensure children’s education is central to the immediate response to their suffering – because war doesn’t just destroy lives, it breaks education and learning too.

Adding to this, refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than other children and youth around the world. Therefore, we have partnered with several like-minded organizations to help fast track opportunities that support this cause, with an increased focus on Ukraine this year.

One of these initiatives is the Ukrainian Optima School, which provides a free distance-learning platform to help 100,000 Ukrainian pupils whose education has been disrupted. The school is backed by SAP and several organizations, including Alliance4Ukraine, the Bosch Foundation, and the DFB Stiftungen.

Supporting children among the Ukrainian refugees has been one of the most pressing challenges since the war began. Education is vital in boosting young people’s prospects in life as they integrate in their new country. We believe that by attending Optima School, young Ukrainian refugees will be able to resume their education based on the Ukrainian curriculum with minimal interruption to their learning.

University of the People Scholarships

In order to support refugees in accessing equitable higher education, earlier this year SAP partnered with University of the People, a non-profit, tuition-free, U.S.-accredited online university. SAP has sponsored 50 associate degrees and 50 bachelor’s degrees in computer science and business administration for refugees and displaced youth ages 18 to 30. This commitment has now increased by another 50 scholarships to include Ukrainian youth as part of the SAP scholarships program.

In the words of University of the People President and Founder Shai Reshef: “Refugees and displaced people have the greatest need for educational support right now.” Figures from UNICEF show that only 3% of refugees have access to higher education, which is why the University of the People enrolls more than 10,000 refugees, many of whom need financial help because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the spiraling costs of higher education.

Through these scholarships, we can connect willing learners from around the world with the first step in their tertiary education journey, but also support employment opportunities and innovation for years to come.

One of the many refugees who has benefited from University of the People’s online degrees is Marina Evseeva, who arrived in the U.S. as a Russian asylum seeker in 2016. These studies have helped improve her English and understanding of business administration. After graduating, she hopes to go to law school to further her education, as well as volunteer at the University of the People to give back to other students.

It’s incredible stories like Marina’s that illustrate how opportunity for education goes beyond just a degree. She now plans to advocate for others and give back to students on their own journeys. Education is truly the catalyst for positive change.

Digital Skills for Today

Another way SAP is helping refugees is through Digital Skills for Today, an initiative supporting young people in the Middle East and North Africa. Batoul Husseini, executive director of Government Affairs, MENA Strategic Markets, and CSR MENA at SAP, highlighted that youth often face limited employment prospects and an inadequate or collapsing education system, especially near conflict zones.

SAP founded the program in 2016, when it was still called Refugee Code Week, to directly improve the quality of life for beneficiaries by providing in-demand skills for today’s job market and long-term opportunities for digital innovation and entrepreneurship.

To date, Digital Skills for Today has exposed over 112,000 young people to coding and produced over 1,270 bootcamp graduates who have found gainful employment. In addition, over half of its participants are female. As Husseini puts it: “The program is about helping young people, including refugees, leapfrog their situation through intensive code and 21st century skills training that leads to job placement.”

A World of Equal Opportunities

We know the positive impacts of investing in equitable education and how it uplifts under-resourced communities through innovations, economic growth, job opportunities, and overall stable living environments for youth all around the world. When youth have access to quality education and feel inspired to learn, we become that much closer to solving the world’s biggest problems.

Through proactive humanitarian efforts and the power of partnerships, these initiatives and scholarships are just small steps that can help bring us closer to a world with equitable education opportunities – especially for those adjusting to the challenges of uprooting their lives in search of a hopeful future.

To find out more about World Refugee Day, visit the UNHCR Web site. Or learn more about SAP’s scholarships at University of the People and our partnership with Alliance4Ukraine in support of Ukrainian Optima School.


Alexandra van der Ploeg is head of Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP.

This article first appeared on the SAP News Center.