Seizing the opportunity of refugee entrepreneurship
What does it take to be an entrepreneur in 2020? Resilience, creativity, adaptability and a willingness to stick with it when the going gets tough. Coincidentally, these are also the skills that refugees naturally develop when they are forcibly displaced and have to seek refuge and opportunities in host societies.
However, being an entrepreneur means more than demonstrating the right skill set, it also means having access to capital. Unfortunately, this important factor is less common amongst refugees. Due to the nature of forcible displacement, refugees often find themselves without access to savings, important assets and networks of friends and family who can provide the much needed ‘love money’ that so many entrepreneurs rely on.
Meanwhile, banks in host societies often do not have the processes in place to properly analyze the risks and opportunities of investing in entrepreneurial projects by refugees and, if they do, refugees have been found to pay higher relative interest rates than other clients (Refugee Investment Network).
FAIRE – the Fund for Action and Innovation by Refugee Entrepreneurs – is an endowment fund that was created in 2018 to fill the gap in the financial market for refugee entrepreneurs in France. FAIRE’s founder, Nick Nopporn Suppipat, a successful entrepreneur and political refugee from Thailand, saw the potential for innovation and growth that refugees could bring to the French market and was frustrated to see this potential systematically blocked by access to capital.
In 2014, I was forced to flee Thailand; leaving behind my home, my family, my business. Without warning, I had joined the 25.9 million refugees found worldwide. We all come from various backgrounds – be it educational, professional or cultural. Yet we all share the drive, determination, willingness to take risks; to not just survive, but to thrive.
When investing in refugee entrepreneurs, FAIRE has applied an ecosystem approach – investing in entrepreneurs throughout the entire pipeline of their project development. From idea to capital injection, FAIRE invests in incubators and entrepreneurship focused organizations, such as PLACE, to create a pipeline for refugee entrepreneurs to develop, test and refine their ideas. By applying systems-level thinking to their investment strategy, FAIRE ensures that by the time an entrepreneur is ready for a direct capital investment by FAIRE, the project is ready to accelerate.
We feel that refugees, migrants, newcomers all bring with them a wealth of skills and the vision to see unique business opportunities. What better way to give back to society than by providing an opportunity to get their business off the ground? It’s what drives our work every day.
Two and a half years into operations, FAIRE is always on the look-out for exciting projects and opportunities. In 2019 FAIRE was able to offer direct financial support to their first entrepreneur, Ghaees Alshorbajy, a serial entrepreneur from Syria and the founder of KaouKab – a start-up that eases the burden of the disposal and recycling of large metallic waste. Also in 2019, FAIRE teamed up with the Centre for Entrepreneurs, the UK’s leading entrepreneurship foundation, to produce the Global Refugee Entrepreneurship Survey, a study on the state of refugee entrepreneurship programs globally.
A start-up itself, FAIRE is an actor to keep an eye on. Their unique systems-level approach to investing in refugee entrepreneurs provides valuable insights on how financial service providers and investors can adapt to seize the opportunity that refugee entrepreneurship provides in the years to come.