Refugees Can Make Great Entrepreneurs. Here’s How We Can Help Them.



What if we viewed the influx of refugees into Germany as an opportunity rather than a crisis? This was the question I asked myself, together with a group of young Berliners, when over 800,000 refugees arrived in Germany last year. As a response to this question, we founded the “Re:Start“ initiative in January 2016. Immigration had always been a part of everyday life for us.

We were able to take advantage of the free movement within Europe and easily obtain visas to study or work in other countries. Now that people were coming to Germany as refugees, we wanted to help. The question was how.

As a former aid worker, I was aware that many of the refugees’ home countries have entrepreneurial business cultures. It is therefore not unusual for them to want to pursue self-sufficient occupations, such as running stores, opening small restaurants and managing successful small businesses.

It was obvious to us that amongst the hundreds of thousands of refugees, there were people who had enough work experience to be able to fully support themselves.

We got to know many of these refugees over the past year. We organized workshops, offered counseling sessions and met with young entrepreneurs who had worked for years in Syria, Pakistan and Somalia.

Take Hiba for example, a successful furniture producer from Damascus who opened a small shop in Berlin with her husband Khaled. It was important for both of them that they quickly become financially independent. Neither of them wanted to live off the government. “We can contribute something!” they said.

There’s also Munzer and his friends, who developed an app to help refugees navigate the German bureaucracy. None of them wanted to leave their homeland, yet they found themselves here, and for them, sitting around and waiting was unthinkable.

 I am convinced that politics alone will not be able to successfully facilitate integration. We must all tackle the problem together and do what we can to help.

We’re not naïve, we know that not every refugee will be a successful entrepreneur. However, many entrepreneurs fail, only to pick themselves back up and try again. Innovation stems from trial and error.

I recently asked a Syrian entrepreneur if he was afraid of failure. He smiled and replied: “I left friends behind, and journeyed for thousands of miles. I risked my own life, so I’ve already proven that I’m willing to take risks.”

Another question we’ve been asking ourselves over the past few months is: How can we help these refugees establish themselves in the business landscape? We concluded they would need training, since markets differ from one country to another.

Thanks to the technology boom, there are countless opportunities to develop scalable business models that require little capital. It is an exciting field for refugees, many of whom arrived in Germany without any capital. To become entrepreneurs, all they need is “know-how” and some networking.

With this knowledge, we developed a six-month entrepreneurship program that will begin at the start of 2017. The program’s goal is to help refugees along the path to self-sufficiency.

We hope that we will not only help refugees become responsible for their own incomes, but to also create positions for other Germans in the process.

I am convinced that politics alone will not be able to successfully facilitate integration. We must all tackle the problem together and do what we can to help.

We must help the people who have come here under adverse circumstances to become part of our society, whether it be as students, doctors, skilled workers or entrepreneurs.

I come from Dresden, an area all too familiar with migration — just think of the exodus of young people due to economic reasons. Dresden has always been a part of me. It is my home.

Lately, there have been people in my hometown who, in the face of this crisis, have done nothing but spread hate and fear. These are people who could hardly display less Christian behavior, yet are bold enough to proclaim that their mission is to save the western Christian world.

I will not let myself be discouraged by these people. I know that we must seize this refugee “crisis” and turn it into an opportunity, which is exactly what I am trying to do, together with my team.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Germany. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.


1 reply

  1. We are facing one of the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war, the Med has turned into a human soup with desperate people fleeing for safety: running from certain death to an uncertain future, risking death and facing cruelty and indifference from our ‘developed’ societies,They don’t want to leave their homes and come to Europe or anywhere else, they have no choice but what the hell, ‘they’re foreign and different and we don’t like them so stick them in a hole and defecate on them’, eh? I s that what you are saying scum? I am sick of being polite and nice to people who think we can’t make a difference or we can’t help. You just don’t want to help because you are just too comfortable and you don’t give a toss about anybody else. Go on, rant, rave and troll and let people die and show nothing but contempt and indifference but don’t feel good about yourselves or think that you are a decent human being, your very lack of compassion shows that you are not. Go down the pub with your mates, buy a pair of shoes – you know, something important and caring.

    I wonder what these western Christian values are since we have engaged in an illegal war and helped destabilize other countries in the Middle East which has given rise to the biggest refugee crisis since WW 2. We are the second biggest arms supplier in the world after the US and these have been used to bomb and kill innocent men, women and children and lay waste to whole cities where people used to able to work and raise their families. Humanity !!! Humanity – this is the problem where has it gone – we live on a planet we do not own nor do we have the to right too say no to another human being – humanity is where we should stand – because matter what we would all fight for our lives and children etc etc – we all know the problems but reading and understanding everyone’s views where is humanity – that breaks my heart – as they saying goes – what goes around comes around – sorry I can’t think of another one word – other than HUMANITY – one race – human race – we should be saving each other – children dying – I’m so sad right now – it’s not about anything other than – humanity

    The Service men and women never fought in any wars to keep us safe, they were sent to the Middle East to fight false wars, George Bush and Tony Blair, lied, lied and lied again, they have had all the Dictators in these countries, deposed and killed, in the belief the West would control the oil, it hasn’t happened, these countries are now out of control, whole legions of people are fleeing their countries. The blame should be placed on Blair and Bush for this whole cataclysm. My friends son died in Basra in 2008, he only joined the army because he was called a sponger on benefits, by Conservative right wingers, Sun readers, he had no skills and could find no job. It turned out he loved the Army and loved the Iraqi people, but he died because this was a false war! A total waste of a young life! There are NO respective Governments, the West have deposed the dictators who controlled these countries, now its militant chaos, we had no right interfering in the Middle East, it has all been about controlling the oil in these regions.

    Actually if you look at the refugee council statistics you will see that there are many Muslim countries have taken in refugees. Contrary to what the media tells us, the majority of refugees end up in countries that border the conflicted state. Lebanon has a large amount as has Jordan and other states that are much poorer than ours. If they fight for their country they are terrorists. Otherwise refugees. I wonder which one is easier. Perhaps the root of the issue isn’t the fact that they are refugees, but how they are treated as refugees? It’s time to make a humane stance for Refugees. They are fleeing war trying to save their families- some can only afford to send their children. While we sit in comfort these people are risking all for safety, time for compassionate stance and let the unaccompanied children in and young families. What would happen to these poor kids my heart does go out to them but they will still suffer from abusers who will exploit the wee souls God have mercy on them they didn’t ask for life to give them a raw deal yet in a way people are struggling and the world is so untrusting and sick i can see both side don’t know what the solution is to keep kids safe.

    My point is that ‘everyone’ helped each other there would be no one homeless or in need ! We are all ‘the human race’ . If haters would stop hating and we all started caring maybe things might change! Hatred & wars just bring suffering. I know there are those who love that way of life , but I would love to believe that everyone knows what love is and its a much better way than hate!!! They are fleeing a war torn country, with no food, no running water, no sanitation, their homes flattened to the ground ( all of which our government have helped by dropping their bombs and supplying weapons) I know that if me and mine were in this situation, I to would be doing the same to get to safety. Refugees need our help to be safe while the terrible conflicts that force them to travel are being resolved. Some will stay, but others will want to go back home. Refugees are very different from economic migrants.

    I’d much rather be labelled a ‘do-gooder’ than a ‘do-badder’ – or even a ‘shut-my-eyes;and-do-nothinger’. There may come a time when YOU need help. Who will stand up for you then? Where there is no love, there is hatred leading to evil, which is the REAL root of aggression and violence. It us our people that are committing crimes not the refugees. It is so easy to blame these vulnerable people, but most are innocent bystanders. STOP HATING , but LOVE and the world will be a better place, as light kills ALL darkness. So let’s bring light into the world. Xxx

    These people are fleeing war. If the roles were reversed suddenly today, and they deny you access to their country because of their unwillingness to share or help, how would you feel? You would have seen family and friends torn apart by explosives, the shops ransacked with no food left, you and whoever is left alive frightened that the next hour could be your last as it continues to rain bombs, bullets flying indiscriminately in all directions. You also have no power or water. So you decide to gather whatever little you can, and with any surviving family members, to look for sanctuary. You’ve trekked miles, tired, hungry, sleeping rough for days, weeks months. You’ve left your life behind. Whatever you used to be, is now simply replaced with the label “refugee”. You knock on your destination country’s door, only for them to see you as a pariah, and refuse to admit you because a few others who also came from your now ruined country have been disruptive. How would you feel?

    Yes we have children in need here, which is disgusting as we are the 6th richest country in the world. We have plenty to go around, but sadly have a Conservative government who are only interested in them and theirs. Do our own children have food? Yes they do, even if it’s sadly from a food bank.! Can they get clean drinking water? Yes they can! Do they have access to medication, treatment and pain relief? Yes for now, until this Conservative government fully privatise our NHS! Then we too will have men women and children suffering and dying in agony because they can’t pay for treatment, medication or pain relief! Do our poor children have to worry about bring injured, maimed or killed by bombs each and every day! No thankfully they don’t! Are there homes flattened to the ground? No they aren’t and if they have no homes, although a hostel isn’t very nice, at least they have a roof over their head! Big, big difference!!!!! There’s only one world and only one human family. What if they were your children? But they’re not are they?

    The NHS’s problems stems from the fact that it is being overstretched without being afforded the resources needed to run it. Immigrants, refugees, tend to be younger people who have relatively fewer health issues than older people. The primary burden is still the local elderly population. The NHS has a mandate to see and treat everybody in need, but the government is currently rendering it more and more difficult for the NHS to fulfil this mandate–understaffing, lack of funding, demoralising remaining staff. The country has the resources to run the NHS properly, but the current government is not interested in that. No money for the NHS but the Government always come up with money for bombs . Refugees are not the enemy but the people that made them refugees are . Blindly following what the media tell you ,get out in tot eh real world and truly understand what the real problem is & its not innocent people escaping War.

    When a Group like International Rescue who are happy to pay the likes of David Milliband over 400,000 for whatever he does for you, the same David Milliband who voted for war in Iraq, against investigating said war and wants Trident replaced with some other nuclear weapon system. The same David Milliband who is responsible for the creation of these refugees, I can only laugh, or sob. Hypocritical organisation who wants my money to pay the likes of David Milliband. so No. I’m happy to stand with Refugees if for no other reason than we made their lives at home a living hell but stand beside this group. I think not I’d puke!

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