Some fearful voices – both in this country, and overseas – spit out ill-informed tripe, like the preposterous notion that immigrants and refugees are “taking our jobs.” Au contraire. Those of us born overseas (who, for the record, make up more than a quarter of Australia’s population) are making jobs, and are crucial to the future prosperity of our labour market. So echoed economic sociologist Erin Watson-Lynn to SBS, explaining that migrants and refugees drive “The Three P’s” of economic growth: “population, participation and productivity.”
“There is actually a risk if we don’t bring in migrants,” she warned, saying we’ll need an influx of new workers as Australia’s aging population exits the workforce – a fresh crop of taxpayers to maintain the relatively cushy standard of living to which we are accustomed. The article goes on to cite a report that finds that refugees, in particular, are “entrepreneurial at a rate higher than other immigrant groups,” and stories emerging across the globe suggest as much (one of our personal faves is that of Syrian refugee Assam Hadhad, who opened a chocolate factory in his new home of Antigonish in Canada).
So how can we support and up-skill these valuable individuals? Numerous start-ups are on the case – many of which, we weren’t surprised to discover, were founded by refugees.
Here’s a handful that have caught our attention:
Social enterprise Techfugees was formed in response to the plight of refugees in Europe. A number of tech-heads banded together to create a series of non-profit events bringing tech engineers, entrepreneurs and start-ups together with NGOs to generate tech solutions to help refugees. With 15,000 members to date, they’ve provided internet access, online and offline education and access to banking, social media and entrepreneurship to refugees in camps and on the move.
Syrian refugee Simon wished there’d been something like this around when he came to Australia, so set about inventing it himself. Winning the inaugural Techfugees Australia Hackathon late last year, 23-year-old Simon and his team were accepted into an incubator program at Pollenizer – where they birthed SettleIn – an app that connects newly arrived refugees with case workers who assist them with sorting out paper work, documentation, opening bank accounts (the list goes on…) and goal setting, making the process of settling in that bit easier.
After meeting at a Techfugees Hackathon event, Nirary Dacho (a former university lecturer in Syria) and Anna Robson (an Australian former employee of Nauru Detention Centre), joined forces to create Refugee Talent – a platform connecting refugees with employers offering short and long-term job opportunities. The venture scratched a personal itch for Nirary, a highly qualified Syrian refugee who endured an exhausting job-seeking process only to have more than 100 job applications knocked back. Refugee Talent has attracted more than 50 skilled refugees to date.
Further afield, New York City’s Eat Offbeat meal delivery start-up sniffs out talented cooks amongst incoming refugees and hires them to work in a commercial kitchen, conceiving, preparing and delivering traditional meals made from centuries-old recipes. Co-founder Manal Kahi was inspired to start the service when she moved to New York from Lebanon and was unimpressed by the hummus she found in supermarkets. Eat Offbeat has six women in the kitchen so far, from places as far flung as Eritrea, Iraq and Nepal.
The clever folk at Techfugees are also behind Helsinki’s Newcomer Bootcamp – a business boot camp for refugees from Syria, Iraq and Somalia. The result of a partnering between numerous organisations (including Moni, a Finnish start-up that makes it easier for refugees to access, send and receive money), this three-day event helps refugees find work as entrepreneurs and start new businesses in Western Europe, through mentorship and training.