Refugee entrepreneurs creating financial value across the world

“Refugee entrepreneurs are in all sectors and sometimes the toughest ones.” Middle East and Africa regional manager at Techstars Ahmad Sufian Bayram
Saturday 13/07/2019
Middle East and Africa regional manager at Techstars Ahmad Sufian Bayram. (Courtesy of Ahmad Sufian Bayram)
Resilience in face of adversity. Middle East and Africa regional manager at Techstars Ahmad Sufian Bayram. (Courtesy of Ahmad Sufian Bayram)

BEIRUT - Ahmad Sufian Bayram has become the voice for refugee technology entrepreneurs from his native Syria. Since 2012, Bayram has been supporting hundreds of Syrians gain access to economic opportunities in a million meaningful ways.

Bayram is the author of “Entrepreneurship in Conflict Zones,” which highlights the needs of Syrian entrepreneurs inside their war-torn country. Recently, he published “Entrepreneurship in Exile,” offering insights into Syria refugees start-ups in host countries.

He is the Middle East and Africa regional manager at Techstars. He is also Jusoor’s entrepreneurship programme manager, an adviser in the Techfugees Board and an entrepreneur in residence at Aliqtsadi.

Between flights, Bayram spoke to The Arab Weekly via Skype. Bayram said Syrian refugee entrepreneurs have all it takes to create financial value in Syria, their host country and the world.

The Arab Weekly (TAW): How do refugees manage to become entrepreneurs in such harsh conditions?

Ahmad Sufian Bayram (ASB): “Despite the severe conditions in which refugees and immigrants live, they have shown incredible strength and resilience. The efforts of Syrian entrepreneurs have turned the neighbourhoods of 6th of October City in Egypt, into bustling corridors of Syrian restaurants and grocery stores to the point that the area is now called ‘Little Damascus.’

“In Turkey, a total of 8,367 new Syrian companies were founded in 2017, up from a mere 157 in 2012. 800 Syrian industrial establishments have relocated their operations in Jordan.

“Given that the act of choosing — when the choice is possible — and moving to another country is an inherently brave and risky decision, it should be of no surprise that refugees and immigrants have repeatedly been found to be more entrepreneurial than locals. Those people are hungry to make it work. The desire has more to do with a will to win and less to do with a percentage game. For them, it is a survival game.”

TAW: What success story could you share with us?

ASB: “Refugee entrepreneurs are in all sectors and sometimes the toughest ones. Sharqi Shop is an e-commerce for handicrafts in Jordan. The online one-stop shop currently features 400 items made by 40 artisans, both Syrian refugees and Jordanians. The start-up is part of Oasis500, the leading seed investment company and business accelerator in Jordan.

“In Germany, a group of Syrian refugees developed an application that helps non-German speakers complete governmental transactions through the translation of application forms into selected languages before automatically filling in standard specifications such as name, date of birth and address.

“The application won the Berlin hackathon Spacehack in June 2016 and was presented to investors and politicians at the Startup Europe Summit 2016 in Berlin.”

TAW: What technologies do refugees themselves need?

ASB: “Technologies can help save the lives of millions of refugees by solving some of the most critical problems they face. Many have used the power of tech to communicate, access information and learn.

“New technologies like blockchain can help save the lives of millions of refugees by solving some of the most critical problems they face. As many refugees leave behind important documents, such as birth certificates, marriage licences, passports and ID cards when they are forced to abandon their homes these documents are nearly impossible to retrieve after one has left the country.

“Technology can allow host governments and support organisations to build trust and could enable them to start issuing digitally authenticated identification documents that refugees could use everywhere to prove their identity and who their families are, open bank accounts, sign contracts or apply to university.”

TAW: What does tech entrepreneurship look like for internally displaced Syrians in their war-torn country?

ASB: “Syrian entrepreneurs have worked hard trying to solve their local community problems, such as improving the infrastructure, finding a job, access to learning and education and much more.

“Tamkeen is a virtual training platform [that] targets Syrian youths through a range of courses, adapted from international universities, that take place in virtual venues. Participants undergo free training and only pay a minimal fee to get their licence certificates.

“Another example of two very talented founders created LiBeiroot, a car-hailing application between Damascus and Beirut to provide people with an easy way of transportation between the Lebanese-Syrian Border as there has been more demand than ever to travel to Lebanon as Syrian airports and embassies have closed.”

TAW: What skills-advantage do refugee entrepreneurs hold?

ASB: “The daily life of refugee entrepreneurs is full of challenges that have exacerbated the difficulties facing entrepreneurs working to create their start-ups. Many decide to meet those challenges upfront and jump in to achieve their dreams. Refugees, by the nature of their experience, are often forced to become entrepreneurs.

“Many who have spent years in refugee camps frequently find creative ways to make a living out informal economies by selling goods or services to their fellow refugees or putting their skills to use to make more money.”