Janine Allis
© Supplied
Location icon Australia

Why I’m helping refugee women

“I’m thrilled to be involved with such a dynamic initiative. It’s life-changing.”

She spent her 20s travelling the world on David Bowie’s super yacht and her 30s building a multimillion-dollar Boost Juice empire. In fact, it is hard to think of a savvier woman than Janine Allis.

So it’s a surprise to hear her talk of the shame she felt in knowing so little about the world’s refugee crisis.

“We’re in such a bubble here in Australia that sometimes we don’t realise our comfortable situation is unique rather than the norm,” she says.

“A friend of mine started talking to me about it. Once I started paying attention, I felt confused and guilty that I didn’t know more about what was going on.”

The statistics on refugees are confronting. Research released by UNHCR last month revealed that nearly 80 million people — one percent of the world’s population — are now displaced. Eighty per cent of refugees are women and children.

For Allis, this was the impetus to get involved. “The more I learned, the more I felt I wanted to use my profile to shine a light on this. And I’d reached a point in my life where I wanted to give back.”

As Australia for UNHCR’s newest ambassador, Allis is the leading voice for the Leading Women Fund, which is aimed at engaging female professionals and change-makers to support refugee women and girls.

“We’re looking for women with an entrepreneurial spirit to join us, and contribute their skills and knowledge to drive change,” she says, adding that she has always believed in the power of women to make a difference. “Women work so well collaboratively. From the early days of Boost, we were a bunch of women who were problem-solvers, quite humble, and keen to learn along the way.”

The first women supported by the Fund are Syrian refugees in Jordan who have found themselves the head of their households, either as widows or with partners injured in the war.

Only four per cent of refugee work permits are given to women, which means they have few ways to earn money to pay for household expenses such as rent and food.

“By helping them meet their immediate needs, we can give these female refugees dignity and choice,” says Allis.

“Many are educated women, who held professional jobs before the war, and they’re resilient. We want to remove barriers to help them build better lives for themselves and their families.”

In October 2020, the Fund offered each of its Founding 50 donors the opportunity to connect directly with a refugee woman via UNHCR’s world-first app, Connecting Worlds. Australian women contributing to the Fund spent a month exchanging texts about their lives with female refugees in Jordan. Allis was one of the first to trial it. “I was connected with a single woman with four kids and she told me about her life in Jordan. It’s a privilege to be able to talk as equals and make that connection.

“I’m thrilled to be involved with such a dynamic initiative. It’s life-changing.”

Join the Leading Women Fund today