5 Social Impact Innovators Tackling the Global Refugee Crisis

Peter Remon
7 min readFeb 13, 2020

There are almost 26 million refugees globally, according to a 2018 UN report. Millions of people have been forced to leave their homes due to reasons such as natural disasters, economic hardship, and the most likely cause of a refugee crisis; war and persecution.

The notion of refugees really came to public attention, in Europe at least, in 2015 with the exodus of millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the war-torn country looking for humanitarian aid in both neighbouring countries, and Europe. Harrowing images of refugees fleeing by any means appeared across the media, showing the shockingly devastating impact of the Civil War on many innocent civilians.

But many governments have fallen foul of re-housing and providing vital care and facilities for refugees all around the world. This is where many NGOs have taken on this role, providing much needed humanitarian aid to those in dire need of help. Here, we look at five social impact innovators, who are tackling the refugee crisis, using their business skills to help refugees in a number of ways.

Alexandros Angelopoulos — Elpis Solar

Alexandros decided he wanted to do something to help refugees after unexpectedly experiencing the refugee crisis whilst on work experience in Greece. Alexandros was volunteering on a marine conservation project, when a number of refugees arrived to the Island on boats. After speaking with some of the refugees, he understood the huge importance of their mobile phones to them.

What to most appears to be just a mobile phone is more than that to refugees, says Alexandros. “A mobile phone is a lifeline for refugees. It is a means of reaching out to their families, staying safe, accessing information and transferring money; daily things which we take for granted”.

With this knowledge, Alexandros, an MBA graduate from Imperial College Business School, alongside his co-founder set up not-for-profit, Elpis Solar, which Alexandros describes as “a sustainable solution to a modern problem”. Elpis Solar provides solar-powered mobile phone charging station for refugee camps, currently in Greece and Rwanda, to ensure refugees have connectivity to the rest of the world and are able to continue to have a lifeline — their mobile phone. Not only this, but Elpis has also branched out to provide digital educational content at the refugee camps to allow refugees to continue to learn, and provides water solutions and lighting for refugee camps — helping over 30,000 refugees per month.

Louis Jacquot and Sébastien Prunier — Les Cuistots Migrateurs

Louis Jacquot and Sebastien Prunier met whilst studying at NEOMA Business School. After finishing their programme they were both working in marketing and finance but decided that although they liked their jobs they wanted to do something with more meaning and purpose. This was in the fall of 2015, when the migration crisis hit France head on. Louis says that at the time, “we talked a lot about refugees as a threat without ever putting forward what they can bring to society positively”.

With a passion for cooking and travelling, Louis and Sebastien wanted to create a project around food with a strong multicultural dimension. And in 2015 they took the plunge and left their respective jobs to set up social enterprise ‘Les Cuistots Migrateurs’, the world’s first caterer employing refugees from places such as Syria, Afghanistan and Chechnya.

The social enterprises aim is to change the way people look at refugees by valuing their talents, but also gives them permanent, stable employment in France says Louis, “we want to make people realise that ‘refugee’ does not need to be associated only with people on the roads, it seems funny to say it like this, but refugees are people like you and us, and it’s worth remembering”. This project began as one active catering service, and has now grown to help hundreds of refugees in France learn a new skill, integrate into society, and gain permanent employment and even launched a refugee cookbook last September.

Théo Scubla — Wintegreat

Théo Scubla, the grandson of Italian immigrants, had been toying with the idea of becoming an entrepreneur ever since he was a teenager. In September 2015, Theo met Omran and Rateb, two Syrian refugees. After speaking with them, he noticed that their qualifications, ability, and potential were far greater than the current situation they were in. “Two days after my encounter with Omran and Rateb, I co-founded Wintegreat and immediately committed myself to creating solutions for lifelong learning opportunities and skills development for refugees in order to bridge this gap”.

Wintegreat is a social enterprise, which provides refugees in France the opportunity to learn new skills through a standardized training programme, revealing the refugees’ potential and preparing them to find a job up to their expectations or resume their studies. It also allows a great opportunity for universities to get involved in helping tackle the refugee crisis, by utilising academic’s skills to teach refugees. The Wintegreat project began at ESCP Business School, where Theo was studying a Masters in Management at the time, with ESCP staff lending a hand, offering resources and teaching to help Wintegreat deliver its first ever 12-week course.

“Changing the narrative about refugees and migrants is what motivates me”, says Theo, who has directly helped train more than 1112 refugees, with 73% of them resuming studies or finding a well-fitting job only 6 months after the programme. “This is only step 1”, according to Theo “we aim to significantly change scale and expand in France and other countries in Europe over the next 3 years with the objective of training 100 000 refugees by 2025”.

Valerie Docher — Relief International

Valerie Docher was working as a Production Manager in Saint-Etienne, France, before deciding she wanted to develop her management skills further. After applying and studying a General Management Programme at EMLYON Business School, she decided she wanted to pursue a role with greater purpose and human aspect. After a brief time studying a Masters in the UK, Valerie went on to work for 9 years in Afghanistan providing Medical Refresher Courses to locals, and is now working for Relief International.

Relief International is a humanitarian non-profit agency that provides emergency relief, economic rehabilitation, development assistance, and programme services to vulnerable communities worldwide. Valerie is an International Programme director, helping to implement programmes that “increase access to healthcare across 16 countries, trains doctors, nurses and midwives to work in remote areas cut off from services and in refugees’ settlements, and improves access to education for refugees to develop skills and livelihood and to help the families and the children to live with dignity”, says Valerie.

For more than a decade, Valerie has worked in humanitarian roles. “I witnessed first-hand the traumatic effects decades of conflict and natural disasters have had. It is heart-breaking; families have lost family members, their children, their homes and livelihoods. Families displaced by crisis need help to meet their basic needs, have shelters and secure the education and skills to begin rebuilding their lives”. Valerie says. This is something that motivates her to continue to help provide these services.

Mohammed Hawar Ismael — Barzani Charity Foundation

Having previously been an architect, and then studying for an International Masters in Project Management at MIP Politecnico de Milano, Mohammed Hawar Ismael went down a completely different career path after graduating. “I decided I wanted to use the skills I learnt within an organisation with a humanitarian effort”, says Mohammed. In September 2018, he became a senior education officer at the Barzani Charity Foundation. Mohammed describes his role as “responsible for all of the Community Learning Centres of the charity, seeking the needs and gaps in education among Refugee Camps”.

The Barzani Charity Foundation is a non-governmental, non-political and non-profit organization which was founded in 2005 in Erbil, the capital city of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). The charity places enormous importance on education, health, camp management, livelihood, food, shelter and water for refugees in both Iraq, but also a number of other nearby countries suffering similar crises. The charity also runs projects for local orphans and people with disabilities.

Mohammed says that, “the most rewarding part of my role is that I am regularly able to assist the community and the Syrian refugees and Iraqi IDPs through various activities and projects. These projects help them to strengthen their skills and knowledge so that they can rediscover their purpose in life, to be financially resilient, and reintegrate into the society”. Though it can be an extreme challenge dealing with women who have fled ISIS, and suffered slavery, rape, torture and almost lost their identity in doing so. “Making a difference to these women’s lives is exactly why I chose a career in humanitarian work”, says Mohammed.