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Entrepreneurship Incubation Programs in Refugee Camps: An Overview

One of the key concerns of countries around the world is mitigation and proper management of refugees. The United Nations Human and Cultural Rights Organisation defines a refugee(s) as , ‘... someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence... has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group... cannot return home or are afraid to do so.’

In such a situation, where people are displaced from their countries of origin and cross international boundaries without permit, sheltering them becomes difficult. They belong neither here nor there. Sometimes, countries may refuse entry to refugees (fearing internal security). Even if they do allow the displaced within their borders, the refugees may not be allowed to use their skills effectively, eventually making them a burden, causing the nation’s resources to drain.

Refugee camps are hence, essentially designed to provide immediate shelter to the refugees. They are, not a long-term alternative, but can surely and effectively help in stabilising the persecuted person’s economic and mental situation, before he or she assimilates to the new world. According to the UNHCR, about 2.6 million refugees live in camps.

This skill set required for assimilation, intrinsic to the rehabilitation policy of refugee camps can vary depending on whether the camp is long or short term. However, the camp does try to empower the refugees to work and reach their fullest potential--language, entrepreneurship skills and the like.

The existence of entrepreneurship incubation programs in refugee camps is indeed a wonderful way to buttress the opportunities available to the inhabitants. Recognizing and utilising the talent of the refugees, especially the youth is pertinent to make them function well in a society. “Ultimately, the goal is to cut down refugees’ dependency on foreign aid and help them on their way to more sustainable, independent lives” (ACH). It is important to realize that refugees are humans too; some may have been formerly employed in businesses, teaching and so on. Effectively tapping this resource could yield many benefits; it positively affects the country wherein they seek asylum as well as increase their chances of integration.

Refugees are survivors and adaptable-one of the skills required for an entrepreneur. “The National Foundation for American Policy states that 55 percent of $1 billion start-ups (50 out of 91 such start-ups) in the US have had at least one immigrant founder” (Anderson). The aim, therefore, is to identify and mould those suitable to harness their pre-existing or latent skills.

These programs have led to a sea of change within the refugee camps. For example, the United Nations Children’s Fund, USA initiated Start-Up Za’atari in the Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan. In one of the many Social Innovation Labs, specifically designed for this purpose, young talent was harnessed for a variety of purposes. “In large tents and a hangar-like shelter filled with colourful posters, clusters of tables, laptops and myriad supplies, the young people participated in a marathon of skills workshops — including robotics, fashion design and artificial intelligence — designed to foster their creativity and empower them to become co-creators, rather than recipients, of the products and services that impact their lives in the camp” (Banbury).

A community-oriented approach, along with young talent is bound to produce wonderful results; solar powered phone chargers or washing machines to name a few. Such programs also allow the refugees, especially the youth to hone their skills in brainstorming, teamwork and group management, calculation as well as tiding over risks and so on. Assimilation and integration in the nation, where they are seeking asylum would, hence, be a lot easier. Further, being fully equipped with entrepreneurship skills, nothing stops them from being a valuable resource to their new home.

Apart from development of skills and rehabilitation, other social stigmas are effectively dealt with. Young girls, bound in the future of an early marriage, get a chance to challenge the tradition with their newly-developed business acumen. They can gather together and bring awareness about these pressing issues. Moreover, with their own local knowledge and expertise, the refugee youth may be able to combine the modern with the indigenous ideas. They come with their own experiences about the world, which shape their thinking and also affect their perspective. After witnessing the distress and the problems in the world they initially inhabited, they can certainly come up with ways to resolve the problems.

In such an endeavour, it is hoped that they may go back to their country and head the revolution of change. Take the story of Olivier Mukuta, the founder of VipiCash. His story began in the refugee camp of Malawi, at the tender age of thirteen. Being a refugee himself, it was not difficult to recognize the problems of the rootless, who wanted to connect with their roots. Starting with an e-mailing service, he ended up with VipiCash, which utilizes blockchain technology to enable the women of Malawi to transfer money securely. This innovation ultimately led to the empowerment of women, as they attained financial independence.

A lot of hard work certainly goes into the empowerment and training of refugee entrepreneurs. Urban Refugees, is the pet child of Sonia Ben Ali and David Delvallé. Although its focus is on refugees living in urban areas, it provides an exhaustive model for refugee empowerment in its incubation programme. First, the needs of the target refugees are assessed, with the creation of a blueprint, outlining the teaching schedule. Training commences with the necessary financial and soft skills also being imparted. After the end of the teaching modules, intense networking is done for the refugees to connect with the suitable organisations. As in the Za’atari refugee camps, later events are also organised, which enable the refugees to pitch their innovation.

Working on similar lines, African Entrepreneur Collective not only trains, but also provides for the integration of the refugees with the host community. The business models are assessed and capital is also provided, based on its expanse (small, medium or large).

All in all, refugee incubation programs are an innovative way to ensure a stable livelihood and future for the beneficiaries. After all, hope is one thing that the displaced strive for. To be shown that it is accessible and available on their own merit is wondrous. As Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany says, “Every person who comes is a human being and has the right to be treated as such.” All individuals have the right to work and a platform which allows them to hope; not for a future riddled with wars, sirens, crisis and strife - but a world committed to peace, prosperity and well-being for all.



ACH. “Refugee Entrepreneurship: Overcoming the Odds.” ACH, Accessed 3 Oct. 2020.

African Entrepreneur Collective. “What We Do | African Entrepreneur Collective.” What We Do, Accessed 2 Oct. 2020.

Anderson, Stuart. “55% Of America’s Billion-Dollar Startups Have An Immigrant Founder.” Forbes, 25 Oct. 2018, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

Angela Merkel. “Refugee Crisis Quotes (34 Quotes).” Goodreads, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

Banbury, Jen. “When a Refugee Camp Becomes an Innovation Incubator.” UNICEF USA, 13 Aug. 2018, Accessed 2 Oct. 2020.

Startups Without Borders. “20 Refugee Entrepreneurs Whose Drive to Innovate Against All Odds Will Inspire You.” Startupscene, 20 June 2020, Accessed 1 Oct. 2020.

UNHCR. “What Is a Refugee Camp.” USA for UNHCR, Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.

Urban Refugees.Org. “Our Bold Idea.” Urban Refugees, Accessed 3 Oct. 2020.

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