• The humanitarian crisis in the Ukraine is not the first refugee crisis we are confronted with and probably won't be the last. Mass migration remains one of the most significant societal challenges of our time.
  • To move beyond crisis mangement and find more structural, long-term solutions, it is paramount to work with the migrant communities themselves.
  • Here are 10 recommendations to build an ecosystem where social entrepreneurs with a migrant background are supported and their impact is amplified by public and private actors.

“Refugees are not always ‘victims’. They are a positive force”

— Atom Araullo UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

The current war in Ukraine has shocked the world – and especially Europe, because the atrocities faced by the Ukrainian citizens feel close to home. So far, over 4 million people are forced to flee their homes and seek refuge across borders, in addition to the 6.5 million people who are estimated to be internally displaced. This is not the first refugee crisis we are confronted with and probably won't be the last.

In the mid-2010s, Europe had to deal with a large inflow of people who escaped war, persecution, hunger and poverty in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa. At that time, the United States also faced unprecedented levels of immigration, as people mostly from Latin and Central American countries moved north to seek safety and secure livelihoods. Mass migration is one of the most significant societal challenges of our time. The latest estimate lies at 281 million international migrants in the world, 84 million being forcefully displaced refugees at mid-2021.

The need for sustainable solutions that are structural and take a long-term approach to address migration issues and the accompanying humanitarian emergencies is paramount.

Social entrepreneurs with a migrant background

Contrary to the prevailing victimizing portrayal of refugees in the media, our research shows that a large part of the answer on how to move beyond crisis management lies within the refugee and migrant communities themselves. Specifically, our study finds that social entrepreneurs with a migrant background are developing more effective and humane solutions to deal with migration issues head on, warranting the attention and support of our public and private decision-makers and institutions. The expertise of these social entrepreneurs stems from their own experience either as migrants themselves or descendants of migrants.

For example, Abdoulaye Fall is leading Winkomun, an association of self-funded communities that aims to tackle financial and social exclusion of migrant groups and return ownership to people in poverty. Anas Ragheb, founder of Mpowerment, helps newcomers to get the right qualifications for jobs matching their previous work experience and guides employers in the hiring process so that talent is not wasted.

We have found that these social entrepreneurs possess unique capabilities from dealing with the complex issues their communities face. They distinguish themselves from other actors in the field by their ability to navigate multiple systems in their home and host countries. They also have an interconnected view, recognizing opportunities that a person embedded in one context could not, and entrepreneurial traits, such as perseverance and adaptability, making them particularly equipped to tackle the adversities migrants face.

In addition, their empathic approach towards the target group enables them to include the voice of migrants at a decision-making level and build bridges between host country institutions and grassroots migrant communities.

Finally, the emancipatory work of these social entrepreneurs to address marginalization in host countries, turns them into empowering role models who elevate the status and reclaim the identity of refugees and migrants at risk of stigmatization.

So far, the Ukrainian situation has been no exception. Since the start of the war, initiatives led by Ukrainian communities around the world have surfaced, for example to collect humanitarian supplies and host Ukrainians in neighboring countries. Additionally, initiatives that advocate for more substantial support from authorities and that focus on economic opportunities for Ukrainian refugees have emerged. Learning from past refugee crises, we expect that these grassroots solutions will multiply and increasingly focus on structural issues.

Building an inclusive social entrepreneurial ecosystem

Based on our research we make ten recommendations to build an ecosystem where social entrepreneurs with a migrant background are supported and their impact is amplified by public and private actors. In each area, we highlight the special role that every institutional actor can play to create the change that is needed.

How can we support these social entrepreneurs and amplify their impact?

1. Social entrepreneurs with a migrant background should get a seat at the table when policies and solutions are developed for migration issues to ensure their effectiveness.

2. Institutional actors need to be aware of and work to overcome their own preconceptions and biases towards people with a migrant background and build a trust-based relationship with them.

3. Access to financial capital and services for these social entrepreneurs needs to be improved via specialized programs at commercial banks, microfinance institutions, and impact investment funds. The European Commission plays a special role in this.

4. Access to legal expertise and favorable tax policies or subsidies need to be facilitated while minimizing bureaucracy. Knowledge hubs can be created to make expertise affordable and accessible. For this, national governments are crucial.

5. Large institutional actors need to engage more with inclusive communities at the grassroots level to co-create opportunities for diversity. Here, local government need to step up.

6. Adopting an empowering and empathic approach towards asylum seekers and other migrants by speeding up procedures and loosening work restrictions and language requirements.

7. Creating more opportunities for migrants in the formal labor market by recognizing their unique and potentially different knowledge, skills, and work experience. The private sector can amplify this.

8. Promoting collaboration and alignment in the field of social change by changing incentives within as well as outside established organization to pave the way for people with a migrant background to work on migration issues. Civil society has a role to play.

9. Changing the narrative by shining a light on positive stories about migration that focus on our shared humanity. The media industry plays a huge role for this to be achieved.

10. Creating fruitful grounds for the development of innovative and sustainable solutions through partnerships between experienced professionals (1st, 2nd or 3rd generation) with an interconnected view and field experts. Both think tanks and academia need to engage in this.

We need all public and private actors in the ecosystem to create and implement sustainable solutions that go beyond crisis responses to migrant and refugee flows. If meaningfully included social entrepreneurs from these communities can provide a dignified approach towards welcoming people who bring opportunities (not threats) that can benefit our societies. It is our responsibility to implement the best-practices and lessons learned from the past and prevent the exacerbation of humanitarian tragedies by adopting a long-term and more humane view towards migration.