Based on our work supporting organizations serving and/or led by refugees and migrants through our Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM) accelerator program, Miller Center was asked to participate in the Global Refugee Entrepreneurship Summit. This one-day event, put on by the Centre for Entrepreneurship in London, brought together a cross-sector group working globally on helping displaced people build economic stability by creating businesses.
In 2018, I led Miller Center’s first SEM program, which was initially an experiment to understand if there were social enterprise models that could fill the gaps left by humanitarian aid to support marginalized communities such as refugees and migrants. Through the entire process, from recruitment to our culminating in-residence showcase at SOCAP 2018, it was clear that the answer is a resounding yes. I attended the Global Refugee Entrepreneurship Summit to share our learnings from SEM and build relationships with other key stakeholders to support the growth of this nascent sector.
The program for the summit was designed to be interactive and spark cross-pollination among the 150 participants who attended and represented groups that are often siloed—practitioners, funders, government and public sector stakeholders, private sector entities, and academic and research organizations. I participated in the first panel of the day, focused on identifying the state of refugee entrepreneurship globally. I was joined by three other practitioner panelists, two of whom are SEM cohort members: Patricia Letayf, co-founder of Five One Labs; and Charlie Fraser, co-founder of The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN).
Each of the other panelists are working locally with displaced entrepreneurs in Iraq (Five One Labs), the UK (TERN), and Australia (Catalysr), so I was able to share Miller Center’s insights from working globally. Despite our different geographies, we all identified the same primary needs—more appropriate and abundant sources of funding for the mostly seed-stage businesses that are coming through our accelerators. This challenge isn’t new. In fact, Dr. Thane Kreiner and I identified this as well in our white paper published in January 2019. However, this summit offered the opportunity to bring even more awareness and brainstorming to this issue from a wide variety of perspectives.
Given that the primary challenge we and many others have identified is around funding, it was exciting to meet two unique funders at the summit who are working to provide more access to funding for refugee and displaced entrepreneurs: Included VC and Alfanar.
Stephen Millard, founder of Included VC, participated as a panelist in the session focused on the role of investors and financiers. He shared the work they are doing to diversify the venture capital community through their fellowship program. This unique program offers training and networking opportunities for individuals from traditionally marginalized entrepreneurial communities to become the next generation of VCs. It’s a much-needed ecosystem shift that will drive more investment money to high-performing entrepreneurs who aren’t recognized by or connected to the majority of traditional venture capital networks.
Alfanar’s executive director, Myrna Atalla, also attended the summit and was seated at my table. They are the Arab region’s first venture philanthropy organization, and they focus on providing grant funding to social enterprises who are building earned revenue streams into their models. I learned about the way their organization supports social enterprises through more than just funding; they include pro bono management support and impact measurement as well. This holistic type of funding relationship allows earlier-stage organizations working in challenging sectors—such as those supporting, employing, and/or training refugees—the opportunity to grow and thrive at a realistic and sustainable pace.
Miller Center will continue to build collaborations around and learn more about how social enterprise can support displaced people so they can remain architects of their own futures. We launched the second cohort of our Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins accelerator program in October 2019 and will host the culminating in-residence and showcase events in Washington, DC, May 29–June 2, 2020. If you’d like to join alongside us in supporting these incredible and inspiring entrepreneurs, please reach out via email at email@example.com.