Ambitious refugee entrepreneurs

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me: ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” –Mr. Rogers

Yes, the world’s refugee situation is dire. And with over 60 million displaced people in the world, it’s often hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, let us remind you that the world is teeming with, as Mr. Rogers puts it, helpers. We have, in fact, seen it through our own eyes, and we witness almost daily the generosity of both strangers and friends in HHSP’s journey to be helpers ourselves. And we are not alone in this: while we may not always hear about them in the news, there are, in fact, caring people across the globe actively working to improve the lives of refugees torn from their homes. Many businesses, as well, are stepping up to support refugees: Chobani, Bright Funds, Endless, University of the People, and United Spirit of America are just a few that have led the way, providing funds, materials, shelter, and even education to refugees.

Unsurprisingly enough though, the businesses that are making the most difference in refugees’ lives are the ones that were founded by refugees themselves. These ambitious refugee entrepreneurs may have arrived at the point of starting an enterprise through an intrinsic motivation, or a mind for business; or, more likely, these refugees are left with little choice than to go into business for themselves. Indeed,  refugees oftentimes have a difficult time finding employment in their host country due to language and education barriers, or lack of available positions in their respective fields. ‘Brain waste’ runs rampant, as the talents and abilities of refugees are not being used to the fullest to bolster the economy and their family’s income, leaving many dependent on government and community assistance. The silver lining to the cloud, and a weathered entrepreneurs will relate to,“Developing a new enterprise [provides] these refugees with an avenue to work on something they are passionate about, when they couldn’t find work with existing companies.”

There are great success stories already:

  1. Catalysr is a migrant and refugee entrepreneurship program in Australia. Founded by Usman Iftikhar, a Pakistani migrant and his friend Jake Muller, Catalysr helps refugees create their own businesses.
  2. Refugee Talent is a digital matching platform that assists refugees in finding work. Co-founder, Nirary Dacho, was a migrant on a humanitarian visa.
  3. Refugee Entrepreneurs Denmark has seen enjoyed grand results by creating a catering company, a car washing enterprise, and even expanding to offer job training services to other refugees in order to make them more employable.

Private individuals and organizations too are enabling refugee-founded companies to thrive and grow. For one, Nigerian investor and philanthropist Tony Elumelu announced a $100 million commitment to furthering entrepreneurship across Africa. This will surely give a huge boost to improving refugees’ ability to integrate and secure employment by bolstering refugee entrepreneurship and helping to diversify the economy of the entire continent. In addition, crowd-funding organizations such as Kiva are enabling refugees to access no-interest Kiva zip loans while providing a sustainable business model to its investors and customers.

Broader groups are involved as well and creating cross-sector partnerships in order to develop innovative solutions to help refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) partnered with the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador in Esmeraldas (PUCESE) to set up a business incubator. The refugee entrepreneurs who won gained training on administration, management, accounting, market assessments, and business planning; technical assistance and monitoring by PUCESE technicians; and, a grant to be used as growth capital to strengthen their enterprises’ expansion and consolidation. Foreign countries are also getting into the mix through the development of programs geared specifically to refugees. To date, the Victorian Government in Australia, the United States, and the European Commission have all created programs for entrepreneurship incubators as well. As more bright minds work together, and policymakers around the globe acknowledge and embrace the benefit that refugees can have to their host economies, all the faster that refugees will be able to contribute to their host society and more fully integrate.

Humanity Helping Sudan Project (HHSP) is an ideal example of this new type of entrepreneurship. A few years ago, HHSP began with the mission of helping refugees acquire farmland in order for them to grow their own food and raise their own animals; but we realized that was not enough. So, about a year ago, HHSP launched a new enterprise: 734 Coffee. 734 is more than just the number. In fact,  7˚N 34˚E are the geographical coordinates for Gambela, a region in Ethiopia where over 200,000 displaced South Sudanese citizens now live after fleeing war, atrocities, drought, and famine in South Sudan.

The coffee too, is harvested in the Gambela region, the same region as the refugee camp, making the coffee and its mission 100% focused on improving the lives of refugees. Through sales of the coffee, HHSP is able to expand its reach, and use 80% of the profits fund education programs and scholarships for Sudanese refugees.

Following in the footsteps of other great humanitarian enterprises like TOMS and Divine Chocolate, 734 Coffee not only delivers a quality product, but it also delivers that something extra: that feeling that you get when you know you did something to help someone else. Whether you like your coffee hot or cold, we stand by the fact that you will get that warm, fuzzy feeling each time you drink it, knowing that you are giving a brighter future to people that have lost everything.

While the refugee crisis can seem dark and daunting, what keeps us going is meeting and seeing the helpers out there – which means there is always hope. Be our hope. Drink 734 Coffee.


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