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IGNITE Conference 2019, an opportunity to discuss refugee entrepreneurship

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The seventh edition of the international IGNITE conference ‘Jobs Now!’ hosted by SPARK took place on a rainy, grey day on 27th November. This didn’t stop key players gathering in the warmth of the Muziekgebouw Concert Hall, with the important mission to discuss the refugee entrepreneurial start-up ecosystem. Together, they have a united mission to promote sustainable economic empowerment for refugees, migrants and young people in fragile states.

Rosalyn O’Brien, Development officer at Youth Business International attended the conference as a representative of the M-UP consortium, one of YBI’s programmes. M-UP is a European network funded by the European Union’s COSME initiative that brings together expert entrepreneur-focussed organisations who have programmes for migrants. Migrants and refugees have differing needs to local entrepreneurs and require specialised support for their businesses to scale up and grow: M-UP aims to influence European policy to foster a more supportive entrepreneurial climate for migrants.

The event itself kicked off with a talk from Yannick du Pont, the executive director of SPARK, who told the story of SPARK’s beginning. Originally it was a student movement to highlight war crimes and atrocities taking place in the Bosnian war. Today, 25 years on, SPARK is an influential organisation pushing the boundaries of refugee and migrant entrepreneurship. du Pont told delegates, “what drives us every day is [thinking of] young people in fragile states”. It was a significant and humbling reminder for the attendees to remember throughout the day.

Insightful speakers from the morning session included CEO of YBI partner, the IKEA Foundation, Per Heggenes, who called for an unprecedented collaboration between governments, the private sector and non-state actors to connect young people to jobs, as well as Josephine Goube, CEO of  Techfugees, who gave a keynote speech describing how her non-profit organization mushroomed into a worldwide community of volunteers who helped organise meetups and hackathons in an effort to generate tech solutions for and with displaced people and refugees. The importance of digital skills, technology and education was a major theme running throughout the day.

With delegates from both the private, public and third sector at the event, the importance of valuable partnerships between these players was also a recurring theme. During the afternoon session, Oudai Tozan, CEO of the International Syrian Association for Education Development, spoke about how this global network of academics, researchers and professionals was set up to support Syrian students with their education.

Panellists called for a radical disruption in our current partnership models, arguing that global catastrophes can’t be solved globally – they need a locally led approach. They also noted the importance of cross-sector collaboration as each has something valuable to contribute. For example, while public and civil society organisations can bring data, knowledge and seed money to the table, the private sector can support scale up by leveraging commercial capital.

Other YBI members who are part of the consortium, MicroLab (Italy) and Youth Business Germany also attended the event – and colleagues managed to squeeze in a quick meeting after the conference. All agreed it had been an engaging and informative day, sparking new ideas and connections which will help shape the upcoming M-UP conference in Autumn 2020.

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