At Refugees Forward, entrepreneurship is the centrepiece of the program that has propelled 12 newcomers to begin businesses this year. These businesses have attracted €250,000 worth of investments making the incubator one of the more successful ones worldwide. This track record led the organisation to be invited to the Global Refugee Entrepreneurship Summit organised by the Centre for Entrepreneurs in London on the 2nd of November 2018. Representing Refugees Forward were the founders; Diederick and David, along with the Incubator Manager, Laura.
Entrepreneurship for refugees is a reality few recognise. With restrictions on work permits and bureaucratic and social barriers that prevent refugees from assimilating into the formal labour force of the adopted country, entrepreneurship has become a force of good. It also comes naturally for refugees. This inclination is best described by Alexander Betts, Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs, and Director of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, “for any migrant, it takes a certain amount of enterprise to be able to leave your home and travel to a new country. But for refugees there is the additional need to adapt: when people are forced to flee, they have to adapt – to new social networks, new markets, and new regulation. As the old adage suggests, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.”
The conference brought together several incubators that work with refugees from across the world. This was a unique opportunity to speak about the practices each incubator was testing and the outcomes that had been seen. The conference thus was a forum to bring together best practices for such incubators. Testing assumptions and collating information and experiences brought into sharper focus the value of refugee entrepreneurship. Another celebrated idea referred to the creation of a global social fund that would allow organisations like Refugees Forward to benefit from international funding mechanisms. At the same time, the conference also became a fertile ground to discuss how entrepreneurship, especially the kind that has been started by refugees, knows no borders. Refugees have families spread through Europe in different countries and while borders might stop families being reunited, entrepreneurial ideas circulate rather easily. This prompted Laura, Refugees Forward’s Incubator Manager to mention how “diplomas have borders, entrepreneurship does not”.
Diplomas have borders, entrepreneurship does not.
For Refugees Forward, the conference was an affirmation that despite their limited time in the sector, the processes used by the organisation were delivering output and breaking barriers for newcomers in the Netherlands. The team derived much enthusiasm and inspiration from other participants. The team was also able to take invaluable lessons and practices from other incubators while strengthening ideas of the organisation’s expansion in different cities of western Europe. The conference added fuel to the Refugees Forward and its mission where participants saw refugee entrepreneurship as smart business as opposed to one that is charitable.