Marta Fiolhais sees entrepreneurship for newcomers as a cathartic experience and opportunity that will allow them to create a new life and purpose for themselves and their family. After graduating from the CEMS Masters in Management degree from Nova School of Business & Economics, a corporate career did not appeal to Marta. Refugees Forward allowed her to use her education as a Marketing Manager where she combined her subject matter expertise with a social cause close to her heart. Having joined the organisation as it turned a year old, Marta dedicates her time to build the outreach mechanism for Refugees Forward. In the upcoming incubator program, she will also act as a team facilitator while coaching entrepreneurs on business strategy. Before Joining Refugees Forward, Marta created a digital marketing campaign for IES Business School and worked as a volunteer at the NGO ReFood. She also launched a successful crowdfunding campaign for the NGO Casa des Cores, in Portugal.
Hailing from Portugal, Marta is fluent in Portuguese and English, while dabbling in French and Spanish. In her spare time, Marta can be found enjoying diverse musical concerts, reading a good dystopic novel, or hanging out with friends over strong coffee, a well-crafted beer, and a bottle of well-aged red wine.
Why do you think entrepreneurship will empower newcomers over other options?
People often define themselves by the things we take for granted – the country we are born in, our job, our house, and our family. When one is forcefully displaced, one loses most of those things, and that takes a heavy toll on one’s perception of self-worth. I think entrepreneurship is a very cathartic experience in that sense – newcomers have lost a lot, but here they have the opportunity to create something completely new. Not only does it allow people to become financially independent, but it also gives them a purpose.
What interested you in choosing to work for Refugees Forward?
After five years of business school, I was very sure of what I did not want to do, and that was pursuing a corporate career. Working at Refugees Forward would allow me to use the skills I developed during those years to work towards a mission I admired and believed in – the integration and empowerment of newcomers through entrepreneurship. Additionally, the ability to work with a great team, a dedicated community, and the chance to be a part of such an exciting journey, made the choice an easy one.
How do you see Refugees Forward progressing in the future?
I see us expanding to other European cities and reaching as many people as possible! As our community gets bigger and bigger, its potential will grow exponentially and consequently attract more talent.
What have you learnt from newcomers over the last year?
One of the things that struck me the most was the purpose behind some of the businesses started within the program. Several entrepreneurs have gone on to launch companies and organisations that strive to empower other newcomers. From Anas Ragheb, who is establishing a training program for truck drivers with a refugee background, to Manar Aburshaid, who is engaged in a tech project that aims to integrate newcomers in the Dutch labour market; it is inspiring to see those who have received help to try to extend it to others. It is a great motivation to see the multiplying effect our programs can have.
If you could change one small thing about your community, country or the world, with regards to newcomers what would it be?
Labels have an important role, in that they make it easier for local communities to process the arrival of those seeking asylum. But once you put an amazingly diverse group of individuals in the same category, it makes it very easy for people to create prejudice and fear. If people start seeing newcomers as the people that they are, and not a threat to the societies that host them, local communities can finally tap into the talent and promise that they bring with them, benefitting everyone.