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Refugees in Business and Entrepreneurship

Refugee Business EntrepreneurshipReading Time: 3 minutes

 

Refugee Business Entrepreneurship

 

by Katy Cottrell, Sona Circle

Historically, refugees have had great success in business and entrepreneurship around the world. From Michael Marks, a Jewish refugee who became the co-founder of Marks and Spencers in 1884, to Jan Koum who fled to the United States from Kiev and later became the co-founder and CEO of Whatsapp, refugees have used their hard work and a wide skill set to innovate and prosper in business.

Hamdi Ulkykaya, Chobani

A great example of this is Hamdi Ulkykaya who in 2005 founded the food company Chobani, which is the number one selling strained yoghurt in the United States. As of 2019, Ulkykaya was worth $2 billion and was named one of the most important entrepreneurs of the past decade by Inc. magazine.

However, prior to this success, Ulkykaya was forced to leave Turkey due to the oppression that the Kurdish minority group faced. Based on his own experiences as a refugee, Ulkykaya has demonstrated how to be successful in business whilst also protecting vulnerable people. In 2015, he announced that he would donate the majority of his wealth to help refugees around the world.

Additionally, within his own business, Ulkykaya ensures that a minimum of 30% of employees are immigrants or refugees. In order to hold other businesses to a similar standard, Ulkykaya set up the TENT foundation which encourages businesses to support refugees by hiring them and integrating refugee-led businesses into supply chains.

Mursal Hedayat, Chatterbox

Mursal and her success in the tech industry is another example of a former refugee thriving in business. Despite being forced to flee Afghanistan with her mother and sister early in life, Hedayat was named one of the Top Most Influential Leaders in Tech by the Financial Times and a Leading Innovator Under 35 by MIT.

This is thanks to her success in co-founding Chatterbox, an online language and cultural training programme which harnesses the skills and knowledge-base of refugees by employing them as teachers. So far over 6,000 Chatterbox classes have been taught since 2018, simultaneously helping learners develop their language ability and refugees build up their confidence and professional skills.

The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN)

In order to support refugees, so that they can replicate similar success in business to Hamdi Ulkykaya and Mursal Hedayat, the Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN) provides assistance to refugee entrepreneurs in the creation and development of their businesses. TERN currently supports 210 refugee entrepreneurs and has alumni who have gone on to have great success in their field.

Fatma Albaiti, Meet Me at Fatma’s

For example, Fatma Albaiti is a TERN alumnus who set up Meet Me at Fatma’s, a London-based Yemeni pop-up brunch. These events have routinely sold out and been popular with Londoners for providing delicious food as well as educating people about Yemeni culture. TERN assists refugee-led businesses through mentoring, and providing access to resources and business networks.

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If you are able to, it’s great to support refugee-led businesses. There are many ways in which you can show your support for businesses that are founded by refugees. For example, you can broaden your culinary horizons by visiting different restaurants, or by exploring different cultures via refugee-led music and entertainment events (read more about it here).

Another essential way to show your support is by encouraging your organisation to employ refugees. In this way, you can help to create truly life-changing opportunities for refugees and support them with further integration in their adopted home country. If you’re wondering how to start these conversations at your office, get in touch as we’d love to help. Check out some tips here.