Many countries are taking in refugees, and integration and immigration are being portrayed as some of the most significant challenges of our times. It's true that the world is seeing the largest number of refugees since the Second World War and the conflicts that expelled them from their countries aren't shaping up to end any time soon.
Many sectors of civil society and governmental organizations have made the effort to make a difference with the integration of refugees. Finland-based startup, Startup Refugees, is no different. The idea behind Startup Refugees is to change the way refugees are received in the first place in order to make refugee integration smoother and less complicated.
What makes them different
Instead of waiting on their applications for asylum to be received, Startup Refugees thinks that integration should start early. They see a large number of refugees, mostly adult males who have the potential to be skilled workers and entrepreneurs, treated like passive recipients rather than active agents in their own success.
Startup Refugees realized that the refugees who are housed in camps and kept from work and school in some cases often have skills and education acquired in their home countries or the potential to develop skills. To ensure that this talent is being realized and appreciated, they function both as a "startup incubator" and a talent acquisition agent all through their website.
Startup Refugees maps out refugees that are already living in reception centers and looks at which skills, professional qualifications and business experience each person has. The best candidates selected then receive a funding allowance for a month which is generally intended so that refugees can put funds into better accommodation and food back at refugee reception centers.
Their program is accessible from their website and is intended to transform the image of immigration from a threating to full of potential. Refugees who are skilled or have experience are matched up through their site with local entrepreneurial opportunities, and so far it really works.
Startup Refugees steers newcomers towards independence by supporting their entrepreneurship and professionality. Participating refugees are becoming taxpayers, entrepreneurs and active members of society. By supporting the newcomers, we are also helping ourselves.
As of August 2017, they matched the skills and goals of 1,800 newcomers in 11 cities. They offered 125 jobs, 42 traineeships, 70 business workshops for 589 participants, 379 courses and educational opportunities, 16 profession specific networking events for 151 participants and supported 35 newcomer businesses. In reception centers, micro businesses are started like barbershops, bakeries and kindergartens, all businesses that are needed and used in refugee centers like in neighborhoods.
These businesses are run by refugees themselves to empower people by allowing them to use their skills in a peaceful and cooperative environment. Participants are rewarded with skill development, work experience and the ability to engage in an open and stable environment.
By actively searching and matching skilled refugees to businesses and entrepreneurial opportunities, Startup Refugees acts as a matchmaker. This is a stark contrast to the way refugees are processed in most countries where long application times, language requirements and the lack of skill acknowledgment leave many refugees in a long, workless limbo.
Currently, Startup Refugees works with 500 entities in Finland including companies, the government, NGOs, universities, religious organizations, research organizations, communities and individuals. They all come together to help newcomers start businesses and enter the Finnish labor market (they first need a work permit in Finland to progress with a job offer).
With this network, they are able to offer education, professional networking, mentoring and skill development to refugees. To get started, skilled people, refugees, business owners and volunteers can sign up on their website which acts as an online social network for professionals and refugees.
While refugees wait to have their applications processed and to learn the language, they are left in limbo. They aren't able to use their skills and may be unable to have previously acquired skills recognized or use the time they have to sharpen their skills, build a professional network or generate income or other things that are vital for survival once they are on their own.
The current system often fails to recognize the value of refugee education and what they bring to the table. Seeing them as victims who have no ability to make decisions and become the burden of the welfare state is dehumanizing and encourages a negative image of them. However, a note of caution should be made as seeing human beings for their potential economic contribution denies the importance of them as human beings. This is also important to keep in mind for refugees who are disabled, older or too young to work or attend school.