Couple recognised for refugee work
As the Australia Day 2012 Honours List is announced in Canberra today, two Hong Kong-based awardees will be on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, helping executives see how it feels to step into the shoes of a refugee.
Four times a day over five days, Australians Malcolm and Sally Begbie will be introducing, among others, the Europe boss of Yahoo, Rich Riley, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee and the CEO of JPMorgan Private Bank, Andrew Cohen, to a simulated 'Refugee Run'. They will try to cross international borders, be interrogated by soldiers, internally displaced or kept in holding camps.
It's an activity that the two co-founders of Hong Kong charity the Crossroads Foundation and their team have been carrying out in partnership with the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR, since 2009, and it is for their services to humanity that the Begbies are recognised as Officers of the Order of Australia today.
The honour has been conferred on them 'for distinguished service to the international community in the provision of humanitarian relief, particularly through the Crossroads Foundation, and as a significant contributor to United Nations'.
'It's extraordinary, we can't quite believe it,' said Sally Begbie, 60, from Davos. The organisation, which the couple founded in 1995 with some boxes of flood relief goods in their bedroom, has mushroomed into a series of projects run from their site at Tuen Mun by 70 workers, including their two sons and daughter-in-law.
The Begbies said they were undeserving of their award. 'We're painfully aware of the extent of global need, people starving to death, abused,' said Sally Begbie. 'There are 43 million people globally who are international refugees or internally displaced. In that sense we feel undeserving. We only make a small dent.
'A big piece of this has been the generosity of the Hong Kong people and the government allowing us to operate at a rent of HK$1 a year.'
The Begbies are in Davos with a team that includes former refugees. Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales and business magnate Richard Branson previousy took part in the Refugee Run.
While several groups are in Davos to criticise the forum, and capitalism, as economies slump, the Begbies prefer to influence by example.
'If we can impact the thinking of these people, then it is a wonderful thing,' said Malcolm Begbie, describing how one chief executive, after a Refugee Run, took 'all of his international leadership to a Thailand refugee camp for a day'.
'We grieve whenever there is a downturn in the economy,' said Sally Begbie. 'The most vulnerable people are going to be impacted by that.'