Mentors have been carefully selected and introductions have been made to the 21 social enterprises joining Miller Center’s new cohort, Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM). After spending January through April recruiting these entrepreneurs from a pool of over 100 applicants, it feels exciting to finally start learning and collaborating together.

Through the recruitment process, I heard from many folks that this was the first program they’d found supporting entrepreneurs focused on working with refugees, migrants and human trafficking survivors. It was surprising news given the unprecedented numbers of people who are currently displaced from their homes globally. We began to realize there is a large opportunity here to bring together innovators and other stakeholders from all over the world to learn from each other and change the way we support the most marginalized in our communities.

 Photo credit: Makers Unite

Photo credit: Makers Unite

As the interviews unfolded, we learned more about the types of solutions people are creating to fill in the gaps that humanitarian aid doesn’t cover. We ultimately selected a cohort of 21 organizations that have impact in 24 countries globally, with the most businesses working regionally in Southeast Asia, East Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. A quick scan of the headlines should make it clear why those are the hotspots, including Europe. We heard from several members of our cohort, such as Refugee Company and More than One Perspective,that the large number of refugees who were resettled in the EU, in 2015 inspired them to help these newcomers build community and livelihoods.

Despite this global distribution, the strong majority (14 out of 21) of the organizations are focused on job or entrepreneurial training programs and/or job placement services for people who have been displaced and need support rebuilding their lives. It seems clear from this data point alone that this is a big challenge in the current system that needs to be solved creatively. Many of these entrepreneurs are working on it, with models clustered around 3 primary areas:

  • Digital skills – “Impact sourcing” organizations and coding schools that train displaced people and human trafficking survivors to gain transferable skills and do digital work remotely. Cohort participants refugees{code}, Regenesys BPO, and WorkAround are enterprises doing work in this area.
  • Entrepreneurial Support – Providing refugee entrepreneurs with education and direct investment for their start-ups. SEM participants doing work in this space include African Entrepreneur Collective, and Five One Labs.
  • Learning a trade – Organizations are training and hiring migrants, refugees, and human trafficking survivors in industries as varied as coffee, high-end artisan crafts, solar energy, fine jewelry and many others. 1951 Coffee Company, Destiny Reflection, and Relevee are SEM enterprises doing transformational work in this way.
 Photo credit: Talent Beyond Boundaries

Photo credit: Talent Beyond Boundaries

Over the next 6 months, we hope to learn a lot more alongside these organizations about what alternative, sustainable solutions could look like that help restore dignity for people who are displaced or forced into modern-day slavery. During the virtual kick-off last week, we had cohort members asking when and how they can start collaborating, as well as saying hello to other entrepreneurs in their region that they’ve met before. We’ll be bringing them together virtually through “office hours” over the next few months and in-person October 19-23 to share their expertise with each other and catalyze systemic change within the sector. We hope you’ll join us for the showcase on October 23 to hear directly from the entrepreneurs about their progress and the impact they’re making on the ground.

You don’t have to search hard to find news headlines detailing this global crisis we are all facing, but hopefully it won’t be much longer until we see more headlines showcasing new types of solutions that work for everyone.  

 

Banner photo courtesy of African Entrepreneur Collective