Cairo’s Startups without Borders brings 200 refugee entrepreneurs to learn, share, and give back

Image via Startups without Borders

Late March, Startups without Borders, a newly-established project that supports refugees in Egypt, gathered around 200 women refugees at the Greek Campus of the American University of Cairo. It allowed attendants, coming from Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan, to listen to each other’s stories and how each one of them was able to leave an impact in the societies she was moving to. It also brought sessions on how to develop small businesses and allowed entrepremeurs to share their ideas with mentors and specialists, including head of business support and entrepreneurship at Egypt’s Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (TIEC) Rasha Tantawy, RiseUp Summit manager Dalia Kamar, and Flat6Labs CIO Dina El-Shenoufy.

The event included panel discussions and workshops on the Egyptian entrepreneurial ecosystem and how to start a business in Egypt as well as a pitching competition.

The project's partners include women empowering organization Entreprenelle, Syrian network Khatwa which is financially helping Syrian students in Egypt, non-governmental refugees organization Fard Foundation, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“The main idea is that we match refugee and migrant entrepreneurs with available opportunities in order to help them launch and develop their startups,” Valentina Primo, the founder of Startups without Borders, told Wamda.

Primo said that refugees and migrants largely contribute to the communities they live in, not only by providing money, but also by adding talent, innovation, and different ways to solve community problems. 'Startups with Borders' helps refugees and migrants through three channels: Chatbot, the database they have, and the website that will be launched soon.

“If you are a refugee or migrant entrepreneur and you want to develop your business idea, you contact us on our Facebook messenger and we use the database that we have in order to get you connected with any organization supporting refugees and migrants,” Primo explained.

This video was produced by Youssra El-Sharkawy and Menna Farouk

Startups without Borders has a database of over 90 organizations that help refugees and migrants not only in Egypt, but also in the Middle East, Europe, Jordan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, and Italy. “A website will also be launched soon in order to publish success stories of refugee entrepreneurs and let the world know more about them,” Primo said.

She added that her aim is to get refugee entrepreneurs, especially women, to further know the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt. “We want them to know what it is to be an entrepreneur, what does it mean to pitch something. We want them to know that you can pitch something without money but you can start something and you can find fund and you can find opportunity,” she added.

Khaled El-Azm, head of partnerships and external relations unit at FARD Foundation which is one of the organizers of the 'People on the Move' event, said that the event is an opportunity to match the refugee community with businessmen and people familiar with the Egyptian entrepreneurial ecosystem. “Many refugees in Egypt are seeking both technical and financial support, but they do not get engaged in an environment that can help them find the necessary assistance,” he added.

Nahla El-Emam, founder of the Syrian food project 'Nakhet Ahl el-Sham (The Flavor of the Levant’s People)', said that her startup began about seven years ago and was aimed at creating job opportunities for Syrian independent and widow women. “We also gave training programs to Syrian women on cooking. Now, we are benefiting more than 40 Syrian families,” El-Emam, who came to Egypt in 2012, told Wamda.

El-Emam also said that her kitchen is famous for its healthy food. “We do everything at home. We prepare the yoghurt at home. We prepare the cheese at home. That is because we sometimes do not have orders. So, we try to keep the women busy with preparing food that is always needed,” she added. El-Emam’s meals are being sold to both Egyptians and Syrians who usually make the orders through the startup’s Facebook page or through their cell phone number. Now, El-Emam has about 35 users per month on average. Her business is also financially benefiting over 40 Syrian families in Egypt as it has created job opportunities for them.

Julie Peter, founder of the South Sudanese project 'Jole Designs', said that she has been in Egypt for eight years and that she started her project six months ago. “I make dresses that have an African flavor. At first [...] I went through websites and saw various designs and imitated them. Then, I started to sell dresses to my friends and people around me,” Peter said. Currently, only African refugees and migrants buy her dresses, but she hopes that her products would soon also attract Egyptians.

According to the United Nations, Syrian refugees alone have contributed nearly $800 million to the country’s economy since the start of the Syrian crisis.

Head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) office in Egypt Amr Taha had said earlier that migration plays a great role in boosting Egypt’s economy and that of developing countries. According to Taha, refugees bolstered the economies of the developing countries by $432 billion in 2015 while the international aid contributed only by $130 billion.

Refugees may be moving constantly, however the women we met in the event proved that they can generate revenues to the communities they move to, bring talent, innovation, and perhaps creative solutions to the community’s problems.

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