Blog 8: Does refugee entrepreneurship help?


Can entrepreneurship provide a sustainable livelihood for displaced people?

Often we hear about refugees as a group of ‘strangers’ in society who are ‘dependent’ and considered a ‘burden’. They are labelled as an isolated group that is economically homogenous and technologically illiterate. All these assumptions not only disempower groups of people that have fled conflict areas to start a new life, as research shows, the reality of refugee economies is very different.


The workshop on Refugee Entrepreneurship that was organized by the Migration and Diaspora Entrepreneurship Initiative (MDE) at the University Bremen in July of this year, explored the potential of refugee entrepreneurship. Questions that were discussed included:

1.      In what ways is refugee entrepreneurship different from migrant entrepreneurship?

2.      How do entrepreneurial ecosystems evolve in refugee camps?

3.      How can we best support entrepreneurial activities by refugees?

And, of course, the ways in which this entrepreneurship can foster the labour market integration of refugees in theory and practice received abundant attention.


Empirical evidence shows that there is an enormous potential for economic independence, cultural integration and labour market refreshment in the support of refugees to become entrepreneurs. But, let’s be careful to not turn reufgee entrepreneurship into a panacea.

First, there are distinctions to be made between cultural backgrounds, personal endowments and educational achievements as well as the sectors and institutional contexts a (former) refugee can contribute to. This directly affects the kind of support needed (financial, capacity building, networks) and the best place provider to deliver it (NGOs, banks or informal community organizations). Second, as the workshop made clear, we still know too little. There is a shortage of data and access to refugees in different settings and contexts for us to build on.

YES, refugee entrepreneurship can help integration, survival and healing as well as social cohesion. Thanks MDE for setting the agenda for lots of work to be done!

Would you like to know more?

Contact me at gw(at)