Syrian refugee students attend a class at public school in Kamed Al Louz in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (Credit: UNHCR/S.Baldwin)

As a citizen of the Gulf, I know the scale of the challenges we face in addressing what has fast become the world’s worst refugee crisis. The biggest obstacle is not the scale of the problem, but the fear that we can’t make a dent in it. It’s easy to feel the issue is too large, too complex, too far gone to make a difference.

More than seven years of conflict have forced almost 11 million people – half of Syria’s entire pre-war population – to flee their homes. This is now a long-term problem, and dealing with it requires long-term interventions on a huge scale. As a business leader, I want to focus on two areas we need to get right: delivering education and fostering entrepreneurship.

These areas are by no means a solution to the wider ongoing conflict, as there are various entities working towards ending the direct threat to life due to illness, violence, homelessness, and exploitation on a daily basis. However, as a representative of the business community, I see a crucial role for the private sector that can also have a major impact now and for the future. To that end, I put forth a commitment at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland alongside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, to fund a refugee education, skills training and entrepreneurship initiative.

In Lebanon – a country of 4.5 million – almost one in four people today is a refugee, a large proportion of them children. Since the start of the Syria conflict, 1.1 million Syrians have registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education has taken positive steps to enroll Syrian children in formal education. But the system has struggled to keep pace. Five years after the start of the conflict, more than 250,000 children are still out of school. Some have never stepped inside a classroom. In far too many cases, children are growing up without an education. We are in danger of creating an entire generation of Syrian children without the skills to build stable lives or livelihoods.

The specter of tens of millions of young refugees growing up without the skills they need to create a meaningful life for themselves is a dangerous one. What do we expect them to do? What opportunities are available to them? These are questions that require a concerted response from world leaders. Add that to a region with one of the youngest populations in the world (according to the latest WEF Future of Jobs and Skills in MENA report, about half of the population is under the age of 25), and the challenge becomes even more harrowing.

As an Arab who shares history and territory with the Syrian people – this tragedy is painful. But we all know that the ramifications far transcend origin and identity. They impact the world. To that end, I appreciate the UNHCR’s efforts and those of other aid agencies and governments that are taking on this challenge. However, I deeply believe that the private sector also has a huge role to play in empowering Syria’s youth.

Displaced young people deserve an education. It’s in all of our interests to help them receive one for myriad reasons. Business leaders in the Middle East need to help fund the expansion and rehabilitation of public schools in host nations, by training and hiring more teachers. Companies need to support young refugees in their pursuit of education and, thereby, rekindle the light that they need most: hope.

We must avoid lost generations.

We need to educate Syria’s young people, but we also need to ensure its future entrepreneurs have the support they need to help rebuild the Syrian economy for the future. A bright and prosperous Syria will come not just from direct relief spending, but in ensuring the creativity and tenacity of Syrian entrepreneurs and small business people. Syria will be rebuilt by Syrians – but it’s on all of us to help them get there.

Along with an educated workforce, a dynamic new class of entrepreneurs is crucial to ensuring prosperity underpins stability in Syria. That’s why I, through my company, Alghanim Industries, am taking bold steps to get involved. Last year, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the UNHCR. Part of it involves organizing Cause Related Marketing campaigns in support of education for Syrian refugee children, and the other part involves providing crucial financial aid for educational activities for refugees in the region. We intend to continue our role as advocates of change during these challenging times. We’ve broadened this to cover other displaced communities during our recent meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Of course, education and enterprise can’t solve all problems. But they are a prerequisite for a sustainable future.

The harrowing images of children in war-torn countries serve as a constant reminder of the role we must play in creating a more stable future around us. We can’t afford lost generations. As always, I’m optimistic about the ability of the Arab and international community to stand together and deliver tangible change.