McKinsey supports Syrian refugee children with education (and cricket)

10 August 2021 3 min. read

Global management consultancy McKinsey & Company has been supporting the Alsama Project in Lebanon to provide education to Syrian refugee children, including in the sport of cricket.

Not long before the world was plunged into Covid chaos, much of it was occupied by the ten-year challenge on social media, where posters shared photos of their current selves alongside a picture from ten years prior. The joy for participants was in the juxtaposition, to see and reflect on how much someone and their life had changed in just one decade. For those Syrians stuck in refugee camps in Lebanon, very little has changed over the past ten years.

In an effort to help others understand their plight, Stephen Hall, a senior partner in McKinsey & Company’s Dubai office, asks this very question; “What were you doing 10 years ago?” The Syrian crisis first began in 2011, with the UNHCR estimating more than 5.5 million refugees have fled the country since, with most spilling into Jordan and Lebanon – two countries already pressed by their own serious internal issues. Almost a half a million of those refugees are children.

Cricket in Shatila refugee camp

“Once you recall what you were doing ten years ago, think about everything that’s happened in your life since,” urges Hall, who during his five years at McKinsey has worked with several NGOs in Lebanon and across the region on their response to the crisis. “Now imagine that for that entire time, you’ve been displaced, living in a camp, and unable to return to your home country. This is the heartbreaking reality that millions of refugees live with everyday.”

Hall is part of a McKinsey cohort which has teamed up with the Alsama Project (alsama in Arabic means ‘sky’), which seeks to empower refugee women and children affected by conflict in the Middle East, with a strong focus on education. The strategic consultancy has helped with curriculum development, teacher training, and broader school governance, along with setting up a mentoring program for students to connect with McKinsey consultants.

“One of the reasons we chose to focus on education is the fact that many children have been out of school for years, and others haven’t been to school at all,” says Hall. “At the same time, the challenges that schools and teachers face in a refugee context are the same as those schools and teachers face everywhere; getting more students access to learning. And it’s exciting to be able to bring solutions we’ve developed in other places to these challenges.”

In addition to education, a number of McKinsey consultants have introduced the sport of cricket to Syrian kids through a cricket camp originally held at the Shatila refugee camp in southern Beirut. It was intended as a one-off, but proved so popular that Alsama now runs six sites across Lebanon, with regular competitive matches between mixed teams of 200 boys and girls. Should it secure sufficient funding, the agency wishes to extend the program to 20 more hubs.

And the cricket program is a serious one. Currently, the Alsama Cricket Club is looking to employ a dozen Arabic-speaking coaches, who are themselves Syrian refugees. The plan is to extend the coaching to 1,000 children, and send a women’s Lebanese team to 2024 Olympics in Paris. “I think anyone who sees the magnitude of this crisis wants to help,” concludes Hall. “Sometimes, they just don’t know how or don’t have the access to do so.”