The Role Refugee Entrepreneurs Can Play On the International Stage

Guest Post by Aubrey Cooper

The typical view of an entrepreneur is an innovative person who establishes a business, manages risks, and hopefully succeeds. But for some people coming from conflict-affected and developing countries, a business is their means of livelihood when formal jobs are not available to them. As shared on The Conversation, merchants often need to take greater leaps to succeed especially to overcome limited social networks and even cultural dislocation. While governments and agencies have fuelled some financial aspects of these businesses, much of the innovation and management is reliant purely on refugee entrepreneurs.

The great news is that more businesses are supporting persons seeking asylum. In fact, refugees in Australia are almost twice as likely to be entrepreneurs than the wider Australian population. The growing presence of these merchants has become more prominent internationally, increasing the influence of refugees around the world. Here are two ways that entrepreneurial refugees can change the scene:

Help increase globalisation

Globalisation, which spread rapidly across the world thanks to the internet, has led to the progress of technology, products, and information. This change is largely due to international migration, including refugee migration, which has affected how our world’s economy functions. As discussed in his book The World Is Flat 3.0, Thomas Friedman notes how the world changed between the years 2000 and 2004. With the rise of global trade and the internet, the world became “flatter”, allowing people to cooperate seamlessly. This is especially true with India and China’s participation in the global supply chain — encouraging migration as more jobs opened up throughout the globe.

Think of how many foreign-sourced brands and products we use in our daily lives. Without globalisation, these intercultural products and services, as well as creative innovations, wouldn’t have become available for our use. The flow of different cultures and beliefs encouraged the formation of unique businesses, which allow countries to prosper today. This is especially beneficial for those choosing to live and work in suburban or rural areas, helping them progress into more advanced societies with stronger influences.

Raise awareness about refugee struggles

Despite their status as refugees, many of these founders can see booming profits. A study from the Ethnic and Racial Studies notes refugee entrepreneurs also see varying levels of success. Merchants who take proactive measures to improve their work and maximise their social and customer networks are able to see great success, even without prior business experience or with little resources. Often, it’s the challenge brought about by legal systems, non-recognition of homeland qualifications, and discrimination that remains the biggest hurdles for refugees, rather than the actual business prospect. By hosting their own business, refugee entrepreneurs can employ other refugees and/or marginalised host country nationals to help support them financially. On a larger scale, employees and business owners can also raise awareness of their resettlement struggles and clear up any misconceptions about refugees, especially by sharing their backgrounds and stories.

While it can still be difficult to reach the mainstream market, there are organisations that assist business founders. Our social enterprise, Welcome Merchant, helps underrepresented entrepreneurs from refugee and people seeking asylum backgrounds establish their businesses in Australia. Our organisation acts as a directory for over a hundred businesses, allowing conscious shoppers to support refugee-powered goods and services. During times of crisis, everyone can do their part to help alleviate the financial anxieties experienced by refugee entrepreneurs through supporting their businesses.

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