Life of a Refugee

Beyond the headlines and the debates, the ‘refugee’ label comes with untold stories of human adversity. Meet three social ventures that are working to help the unfortunate get back on their feet...

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Your day is pretty much routine. The kids are ready for school, your parents are busy with chores and you’re ready to head to work.

Life is predictable in a boring-but-stable kind of way. Then suddenly one day, the ground is yanked from under your feet.

Your home and workplace are reduced to rubble, everything familiar has disappeared and the threat of violence looms over your family. To stay alive, you have to leave behind all that defined your life.

Sounds like a plot for a Hollywood drama? Unfortunately, it’s reality for many people.

We call them ‘refugees’, those displaced from their homes and countries and by default, their lives. They’ve made headlines in the past few years, sparked plenty of debates and even shaped the global political landscape. From Europe to Asia, there are over 20 million refugees worldwide. Their travails have saddened many but also inspired many others.

Among the inspired are three social entrepreneurs from the nine shortlisted for the Investment Ready Program, to which Allianz is lending its expertise under a partnership with Impact Hub.

Meet these good Samaritans, who are combining social causes with intelligent business.

Breaking the chain of inherited misfortune

As of April 2017, there were more than 150,000 refugees in Malaysia. Lacking legal employment opportunities, many struggle to make ends meet. At greater risk are the 36,000 odd children of refugee parents, deprived of healthcare and schooling in their developmental years.

Sensing an opportunity to fill a gap, Suzanne Ling, Lee Swee Lin and Kim Lim founded the Picha Project, a catering and food delivery service that harnesses the culinary skills of refugees. It began with the mouthwatering aromas the three noticed in refugee camps at mealtimes. “We saw an opportunity to give these families an income stream through a catering business and the Picha Project was born,” says Ling.

The project aims to allow refugee families to take care of their basic needs, so the focus shifts back to their young members. “When putting food on the table is a struggle, sending children to school becomes less of a priority,” she says.

Each packed meal comes with a personal note from the cook. In case of emergencies, Picha also covers the medical expenses of the refugee families it employs.

Brushing the trauma away

Currently, Turkey hosts a whopping 3.5 million Syrian refugees, of which more than a third are minors. At a vulnerable age, these children experienced conflict and trauma that even adults would struggle to deal with. While psychotherapy is key to helping them overcome their experiences, non-traditional methods such as art therapy also go a long way.

Ece Altunmaral and Edipcan Yildiz, the founders of Istanbul-based activist clothing brand Reflect, use art therapy workshops not just to help young Syrian refugees deal with trauma but also to take their message to the wider world.

Through colors, the workshops allow these children to express what words cannot. Some of the artworks make their way into Reflect’s clothing line ‘Solidarity’, dedicated to creating awareness about refugees. Reflect also uses a part of its profits to enable disadvantaged youth to pursue an art career.

“What happens around us is our biggest inspiration. Our mission is to inspire people to take action for social change,” says Yildiz.

No education like adversity

If you live in Germany, you might have noticed the ads from Social-Bee that scream - ‘Soft skills can come the hard way’. Depicting refugees in tough situations, the ads highlight that adversity has taught them important workplace skills – team spirit, resilience, goal orientation, stress resistance...

A combination of soft and hard skills can enable refugees to find their professional feet. Who better than those already in the workforce to be their guides?

Enter Volunteer Vision, an online platform that connects experienced professionals willing to lend a helping hand with those who need guidance.

Founded by Suska Dreesbach-Bundy, Barbara Scheck and Julia Winkler, Volunteer Vision offers a complete solution for corporate volunteering. The platform not only has educational material for mentors but also an interface for mentoring.

Companies pay for the license to use this platform and Volunteer Vision uses the proceeds to extend the service to non-governmental organizations working for youth development. Among these NGOs is Kiron, an educational platform that enables refugees to attend university. About 300 Kiron students are registered on Volunteer Vision’s platform, of which around 120 are either receiving or have already received mentoring.

Empower the enabler

Behind the ‘refugee’ label lie real people with unfortunate stories. With innovation and support, it’s possible to give them a chance to live normal lives.

Empowering social innovators means empowering society.

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Anja Rechenberg
Allianz SE
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