Refugees as Innovators and Entrepreneurs

Guardian logo 300The other day one of my staff colleagues here at LIRS circulated an interesting update from the Global Development Professionals Network, an online forum hosted by The Guardian and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In the article, “Put Innovation at the Heart of Refugee Protection Work,”  author Alexander Betts argues that there are vast untapped resources within the refugee community itself – the abundant resources of refugees’ skills, aspirations, and entrepreneurship. 

“By definition, refugees have had to survive and adapt in entrepreneurial ways.  Even in the most restrictive camp environments, like the Dadaab camps in Kenya, small businesses thrive, and SMS and Facebook are ubiquitous and adapted to create economic opportunity,” Betts writes.

“In Uganda, where refugees have the right to work, the majority in Kampala are self-employed and in the Kisenyi district many Somalis run thriving businesses that even employ nationals.  Access to remittances and the diaspora frequently provides the source of capital for entrepreneurship,” he adds.

There are a lot of things to love about this article and about the points that it makes.  First of all, the article emphasizes the wonderful resources that exist and find expression within migrant and refugee communities, even in the world’s harshest environments.  It points out that there are innumerable creative and innovative efforts to build communities and economies already under way, which if cultivated have the potential to create greater abundance for all.  It also highlights how effectively refugees leverage their social networks, in the camps and around the world, to fuel their entrepreneurship.

Revealed abundance, dynamic and adaptable communities, and the extraordinary power of human networks to advance change – these are themes that resonate deeply with the internal conversations we are now having at LIRS, and that have animated our planning work in recent months.  They are themes we continue to explore in our Community Conversations, and that we are now beginning to enact in consultations and partnerships with some of our key stakeholders as we move into testing and implementing our new strategic priorities.

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