Refugee-Made: Social Enterprises that Employ to Empower
A Contributing Piece by Mirah Alix
There are around 70 million forcibly displaced persons in the world today. Many of these survivors fled their homes with nothing more than heavy hearts in the aftermath of persecution or conflicts of war. Approximately 22,900 refugees were resettled in the United States in 2018; and though this provides a fresh start for displaced individuals, for many, new sets of challenges continue to present themselves long after resettlement.
In addition to adjusting to American culture, language, bureaucratic red tape and modes of transportation, refugees must try to find employment and support their families in a new place.
Resettlement organizations can often only support refugees for 3 to 6 months after arrival. Even migrants with advanced education or work experience in their native country may not be able to find a comparable job in the U.S. due to hiring bias or their degree not transferring.
Regardless, refugees are incredibly determined and contribute positive energy to their new communities and to the workforce (Albert Einstein is just one, impactful example). They’re eager to learn English and actually have higher job retention rates than other workers, when given the right tools to overcome initial barriers to employment. After that, there’s no telling the amazing contribution they may have on society.
Social enterprises are uniquely positioned to create this toolbox for refugees looking to enter the workforce. With production and supply chain processes designed specifically to offer learning experiences and healthy wages, the resulting product is more than a material good — it’s economic empowerment and independence.
The resulting product is more than a material good — it’s economic empowerment and independence.
So, who’s making this happen?
Quite a few of toasting good’s brand partners are creatively helping refugees.
Knowing that isolated women and young girls fleeing conflict in East Africa are subject to higher risks of trafficking and exploitation, Anne Sweeney and Talyn Good founded RefuSHE. This Chicago/Kenya-based enterprise takes a holistic approach to supporting women’s futures. All profits from their refugee-made scarves, jewelry, and accessories help fund safe houses, educational programs and employment opportunities for refugee women. I find their model particularly compelling after learning that empowering women actually empowers entire communities, with statistics showing women are more likely than men to use their income to share knowledge across networks and re-invest in their children’s futures.
For refugees placed in Nashville, Tennessee, Sew For Hope provides sewing machines, books and lessons for women preparing for the job market. Over 200 refugees have graduated from their program and 40% have continued sewing for organizations like Weighting Comforts, Moon+Beck, Liz Alig and Bevy Goods.
Hungry for more? Next time you snack, keep refugees in mind and grab granola from Beautiful Day, a non-profit based in Providence, Rhode Island that teaches refugees more than granola-processing skills. Two of their Tanzanian employees, Afisa and Monique, feel more confident in their time management, organizing and budgeting capabilities after working with Beautiful Day, and Monique is excited to transfer these skills as she enters college this year.
A different way social enterprises can contribute to refugee resettlement is through donating a percent of their sales, which The Advocate Coffee has pledged to do in addition to their ethical and sustainable production model.
The movement doesn’t stop there.
For refugee economic empowerment to be widespread and long lasting, we have to think bigger. Social enterprise is a mindset and a model; I believe it has no limits in terms of implementation or impact. So, why not operationalize some of the largest corporate workforces to create similar refugee opportunities?
Take, for example, the Tent Partnership for Refugees, an organization helping businesses develop scalable refugee support by means of employment, investment and deployment of critical services. Some of their notable partners include Volkswagen and Starbucks, who have made commitments to hire 4,500 and 10,000 refugees respectively.
Now it’s our turn.
When you’re shopping for a unique and meaningful gift this holiday season, consider one ethically made by refugees. By supporting social enterprises working to uplift refugees, you are not only helping employ refugees, you are sharing their talent, spreading awareness of the global economic challenges created by forced displacement and support sustainable production methods.
Consider your own workplace, learn about their hiring policies or diversity and inclusion initiatives. Are there opportunities to offer training for refugees or other marginalized populations? Does your company donate any percentage of profits to social causes? Simply asking could start a conversation that influences leadership to make impactful change with company dollars. As conscious consumers, we often talk about voting with our wallets…remember that your 9 to 5 can do the same!
The brands below offer products either made by refugees, or whose profits donate back to resettlement organizations aiding refugees. Take a look and support these amazing companies in their quest to ensure all have a chance at a healthy, prosperous life.