“The uncertainty of the coronavirus can give us a small glimpse into what it’s like to be a refugee – we’re experiencing restrictions on travel, non-secure housing, job uncertainty and so on,” says Dr Michelle Richey, of Loughborough University’s School of Business and Economics.
“However, there are refugees around the world who work entrepreneurially around obstacles to establish livelihoods, forge new networks and create opportunities for themselves and their families.
“There are lessons to be learnt from these communities about how we can overcome hardship and the current situation also highlights the importance of supporting refugees who face some of the difficult things we are facing during the pandemic – and so much more – on a daily basis.”
Dr Richey is an expert in technology and entrepreneurship, working to provide more opportunities for refugees to flourish in the UK and around the globe.
She and a team of talented researchers have just been awarded funding from the Society for the Advancement of Management Studies (SAMS) and British Academy of Management (BAM) to explore what can be learned from successful refugee entrepreneurship interventions in Africa.
The findings of the project will help policy-makers in Africa provide further support for refugees, but ultimately, Dr Richey hopes the research will inspire public and private investors in the UK to back existing and new initiatives that build the capacity of refugee businesses and enable them to thrive.
She also hopes the situations we have incurred during the pandemic will drive home the importance of supporting communities facing uncertainty and restrictions on levels many of us simply cannot fathom and of this type of research.
Africa has been selected as the focus of the project as its countries have long taken in refugees at a scale far beyond the resettlement programmes in Europe.
For example, in Kenya – where fieldwork will take place – Kakuma town and refugee camp has hosted many of the 20 million refugees displaced in the region for over 20 years.
Refugees can find themselves living in Kakuma camp for decades, with little prospect of returning home, says Dr Richey, yet among these restrictions over 2,000 businesses operate in-and-around the camp in a vibrant informal economy.
Rwanda also hosts thousands of refugee businesses many of which are supported by initiatives like the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC).
AEC, which has helped more than 12,000 refugee-led businesses in the country, Professor M. N. Ravishankar, of Loughborough University, Professor Monder Ram OBE, of Aston University, and Dr Ray Randall, of the University of Sheffield, will all be collaborating on the research project led by Dr Richey.
The study aims to unpack how these kinds of innovative initiatives might be transferred to other settings that host large refugee populations.
Dr Richey commented: “Since refugee numbers continue to grow – currently 79.5 million according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – and are forecast to grow exponentially in coming decades, there is a pressing need to understand how to more successfully integrate people displaced by war, violence and natural disasters.
“Our study will flesh out a developmental approach with evidence and suggestions for how policy makers can support refugees rebuilding their lives in different regions under heavy restrictions.
She continued: “Evidence from settings like Rwanda show that refugee populations can successfully integrate and contribute to the social and economic prosperity of a country.
“Refugee led businesses also create jobs for locals, bring back skills from industries that have been long ago off-shored and with their innate resilience and social orientation – we find many businesses want to give back to communities – refugees build the kinds of businesses we need more of to re-build the United Kingdom’s economy.”
Julienne Oyler, CEO of African Entrepreneur Collective, commented: “The results we are seeing on the ground are that refugee entrepreneurs are meaningful contributors to the larger economic development of their host communities and countries.
“By working with Dr Richey and her team, we will be able to demonstrate the true impact that refugee entrepreneurs can have when they are supported and enabled to launch and grow businesses.”