Refugees: A Crisis or an Opportunity?

by Hakan Sandberg

Few issues have got more attention in Europe than the rapid influx of refugees seeking a safe haven in a new host country. It has toppled governments, changed the whole political landscape in several countries, and made many initially generous and empathic people eventually withdraw and instead lean towards right wing, racial nationalism. But is the refugee crisis really the “mother of all problems”? Have we given those new arrivals a real chance to contribute and be part of adding value to our societies?

If we believe all human beings are created in God’s image, then we also believe all human beings are inherently creative to some degree. This also must include these newcomers to our countries. What if we would focus on bringing that creativity out of them, so that they can flourish and be a blessing to others?

Instead many of our well-intentioned governments make them stand in line, waiting for jobs after first having gone through language and culture training, etc. etc. These are good things but represent a journey that can take years and often leads to a loss of vision and energy. Not all incoming refugees are cut out for this type of process, some have the drive to create a different future for themselves.

From Crisis to Opportunity

If we are realistic about it, migrant flows are not going disappear. Conflicts have always been there in different regions at one time or another, and they are not likely to end. Many experts are also pointing at a new reason for migration coming in the future, namely climate migrants, people who have lost everything due to the global warming and rising water levels around coastlands.

How can we turn what media have labelled as “crisis”, to become a real, tangible opportunity?

As business people who love God, the creator of all people, we have got all the tools in our hands to make a difference. We know what it takes to start a new business and we can help bridge the gap for our new entrepreneurs. We could take initiative to build a new specialised type of business incubator, one that adds the “extra ingredients” of hands-on networking and relationship building with refugee families – helping them navigate through the bureaucracy (I call it “bureaucrazy”) they will face! As experienced business people we could sign up as a mentor or coach to at least one new entrepreneur and stay faithful for a couple of years.

But is that realistic? Well, it is already happening in many places, but there is so much more we can do. Let us add in a recent historical perspective to the challenge we face first.

A Macro Example

When we think of Israel today we think of an innovative high tech country. But how long have they been like that and how did it start? When I was young, Israel was the kibbutz nation. A small country of less than 5 million people and a struggling economy, with unemployment of 12 percent. After the collapse of the Soviet Union almost one million people migrated to Israel within five years. None of our countries in Europe has experienced anything like that. To receive that many migrants in such a short time and under those conditions could have been a total catastrophe for the small nation.

Instead of calling the migration a crisis that could threaten to drag the whole country into financial disaster, the government saw it as an opportunity that could potentially help them out of financial difficulties. Since the government was at the time cutting back on hiring government workers, due to the economy, they understood that all the new jobs they needed would have to come from the private sector. For the first time in the history of Israel they built startup incubators to harness the drive and ideas from the most creative among the new arrivals, a move that proved to work better than anybody could have dreamt of.

Many of those who came in this wave of migrants were well educated and had work experience from engineering, technology, medicine or science. But very few spoke Hebrew or English and they had been educated in a totally different way than the natives, and with a very different culture. Much of this situation resembles the first waves of refugees that came into Europe in 2015, although the reasons for the migration were different.

The result? Today Israel has become the “startup nation” with the largest number of startups per capita in the world, representing 12.1% of the country’s GDP, and they are flourishing. They saw migration as an opportunity and won, so can we!

A Micro Example

Five years ago, Itzinya was created. The idea of Itzinya (read “it’s-in-you”) was and still is, to help young entrepreneurial people start, run and grow business with a holistic impact on their societies in developing countries – to create as many jobs as possible and “answer those who ask us to give a reason for our hope.”

Then in 2015 Sweden received 162,900 refugees seeking asylum within one year. That was double anything the country had ever previously experienced. Our government had to become creative and budgeted for some extraordinary projects to handle the situation. We were asked to do something for the refugees in the city of Norrkoping, a small city that had received many newcomers.

Although we had never anticipated developing Itzinya in Sweden, we saw this as a great opportunity to see if we could add value to the same people that were our target group, but now instead in our own home market. Of course, this proved to be much more difficult than expected, for many reasons such as: a very advanced and competitive market, the lack of language ability, the tax and financial system, complex laws, cultural challenges, and the entrepreneurs having no existing networks, etc. More challenges yes, but not impossible!

Over the following two and a half years we helped at least 10 companies see the light of day. They ranged from exporting medical equipment, perfume production, a car workshop, business broker, and restaurants, etc. The fastest growing company was a dairy production that grew from one person to nine employees within the first year.

We did this through opening a Startup Academy, a 4 month program in Arabic, running part time for those who would rather create a job for themselves than stand waiting in line for a job that the majority of the time didn’t connect to either their competence or their passion.

We ran a Lean Startup program and in between our business model design workshops we invited the tax office, financial experts etc. to come and teach and coach, and we had breakfast once a week at the science park for networking. We also invited local, Jesus-following business people to coach each entrepreneur.

But do they really want to start a business?

Some facts: Young people with migrant background are twice as entrepreneurial as an average Swede. 95,000 companies have been started by a migrant, that is one out of every five companies, and in total and 300 000 jobs have been created by them in Sweden. In Germany the figure is 1.3 million jobs. So yes, I believe we have drive there.

What if we started incubators in every major city in Europe in collaboration with the startup communities that already exist? What could be the impact both for individuals and society?

How you could help…

Here are some common barriers that face migrant entrepreneurs that you could come alongside to help them overcome:

  • Winning trust from investors and customers
  • Finding partners and networks
  • Navigating local rules and regulations, mitigating the “bureaucrazy” they face
  • Building specialist competence through international collaboration
  • Investing in companies
  • Placing first orders

Even in very simple ways, as business people we can make a great difference with our time and talents.

Here’s our purpose and mission for Itzinya, we hope you will join us in making this a reality, all across Europe, and the world:

Building society

Have a focus on integration through coaching relationships, business networking and when possible even partnerships with local citizens, with the goal of building society.

Building Kingdom

Through long-term relationships and value adding coaching, create a safe place to explore larger questions about life, hope and faith, with the goal of building the kingdom.

Spreading hope

Our world needs hope and optimism more than ever. Europe needs it today. The hundreds of thousands of refugees that have lost their homes and perhaps have no reason to hope, for this life or the next, are especially in need of it. Yet, we hear countless stories of refugees being able to begin a new life, while adding value to society, all through business incubation, mentoring and startup – now that is hopeFULL!

 

Facts and figures from Startup Migrants, Frekk Forlag 2019

 

 

This post is  part of a series of blogs in April 2019 focused on solving global issues with innovative BAM solutions

The BAM 2.0 Series

Over the coming months we will go into greater depth on each of these key issues.

In March we will continue with our introduction to the series, looking at how far we’ve come and some of our ‘big hairy audacious goals’ for the future.

In April we’ll take a deep dive into our ‘Why’ – what are some of the pressing global issues that BAM can address, including poverty, unreached peoples, the refugee crisis and human trafficking.

In May we’ll look at some limiting issues such as the sacred-secular divide, our definition of success, our geographical depth and our connectedness; issues that we must overcome for future growth.

In June we’ll look at resource gaps to overcome, including human capital, financial capital, mentoring, prayer and continuity planning.

We hope you enjoy this series! Follow us by subscribing to The BAM Review email or on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

Hakan Sandberg has worked with BAM business the last 17 years. He has started a handful of companies himself and today he helps others to start and grow theirs. His desire from his teenage years was to serve God so eventually he became a church planting missionary. During that time he began to realize something important was missing in the whole concept of missions as he knew it, the answer to one of the most fundamental needs he saw was to help people get a job. This led him to venture into business to learn for himself so that he could then be of better service. After four years in international IT business and nine years in a cross cultural BAM business, he today leads a growing network of Startup Incubators and Accelerators called Itzinya Networks, based in Sweden and with initiatives in Europe and Africa.

 

Photo credit Itzinya.