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Empowering young refugees and sharing solutions at SPARK’s IGNITE Conference

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Written by Emilia McElvenney, Partnership Development Manager at Youth Business International (YBI)

The image above, courtesy of Ink Strategy, perfectly encapsulates the passion, energy and ideas flowing from     SPARK’s 6th IGNITE conference held in Amsterdam at the end of November. It was a truly worldwide event that brought together education experts, private sector, governments, academia, NGOs and entrepreneurs from refugee communities to create new stories and solutions to improve higher education, promote sustainable economic empowerment and strengthen leadership amongst young refugees wanting to start, scale and sustain a business.

I attended as part of the M-UP consortium. Funded by the European Union’s COSME Programme, M-UP is a European network that brings together expert organisations from across Europe in order to help them to support migrant entrepreneurs to scale up and grow. The thing I admire about M-UP is their approach; the entrepreneur is the guide to finding the solutions to the challenges they face when growing a business. The work of M-UP is framed around the entrepreneur’s story, what they perceive and think they are doing well and not so well and what they need to do better. 

At the IGNITE conference, M-UP hosted a workshop called 'Migrant Entrepreneurship Matters' and you know what, it does!  Despite misconceptions, migrants are much more likely to start businesses than the native populations. While these businesses tend to be micro-enterprises that employ few people, they should not be ignored. In almost every country in the world small businesses are the engines of economic growth. Despite having made it over the hurdle of starting a business there are still obstacles to growing a business. But in a new country, in a new language, migrants and refugees face huge barriers to growing a business. As we know, European administrative procedures can be complex, even more so in another language, there are cultural norms to learn in business and when you are trying to expand to new markets the rules can change from one city to the next. Something we heard often in our sessions was that young people from migrant and refugee communities find it hard to access the finances they need to grow.

Although there was a lot of talk about challenges, there was also plenty about solutions and everyone in the room was making a contribution to supporting young entrepreneurs; local governments providing key workers, NGOs providing advice and guidance, mentoring and capacity building, businesses providing opportunities for young entrepreneurs to engage with them and investors who provide the capital to make it happen.   

While there are organisations like YBI supporting young people along their business journey, what I noticed listening to the young entrepreneurs talking about their experiences and the help they received was the lengths they have gone to realise their dream and how their story isn’t over. Now they have made it, the next chapter is about giving back and helping others in their local community, whether it be a job, advice or igniting that spark to inspire someone else’s dream of starting their own business. 

To find out more about M-UP, visit the website where you can also request to become a member for free.

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