Social Founder stories: supporting refugees

Read about social founders supporting refugees.

Powerful social change-makers are supporting refugees locally and globally

This month we stand in awe of Nadia Murad, co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. Nadia is a 24-year-old Iraqi Yazidi woman who advocates on behalf of her community and survivors of genocide. She has turned unbelievable horrors, for herself and her family, into powerful campaigning, incredible personal courage in speaking out, and brilliant empathy with women and minorities around the world.

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Nadia is also a social founder, setting up Nadia's Initiative, a foundation supporting women and minorities in order to give focus to her campaign and to raise funds.

With over 3000 Yazidi women still in captivity, 300,000 living in IDP refugee camps, and the Yazidi homeland of Sinjar uninhabitable, the Yazidi community remains on the verge of collapse. Nadia's Initiative focusses on the Sinjar area, but her campaigning reaches around the world.

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"We must look past what divides us and find what unites us."

Nadia Murad, Founder and President of Nadia's Initiative, refugee, and co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

Hearing about founders of refugee charities, their stories and their impact, is inspirational

At the Social Founder Network this month we've profiled just a few of the many founders of refugee charities and social enterprises. Some are young, some older and some long-gone.

Some social founders, like Helen Bamber (see below), stay with their charity for decades, leaving a powerful global legacy. Some, like Ina and Lilly, two of the young founders of the Team Bananas Supper Club, volunteer in refugee camps and raise funds and awareness locally through food and music.

What we learn, time and again, from these inspiring founders is their ability to become a powerful force for good. Often drawing on their own difficult circumstances, they channel their empathy into determination, innovation, influence and direct impact on the ground. They are often are, or become, highly skilled operators and campaigners.

Their stories and the work of their organisations, whether grassroots or global, in turn inspire others to provide direct support, and to speak out against the causes of war, violence and poverty that drive people to seek refuge.

Social founders old and new:

supporting refugees around the world

Over 50 years after the founding of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (the UNHCR founders thought they would only be needed for 3 years), people around the world are still desperate for refuge from the atrocities of war, torture and genocide. Global mass migration, closed borders and national austerity programmes make support for refugees more of a challenge than ever.

Five countries account for two-thirds of *all* refugees:

Syria - 6.3M

Afghanistan - 2.6M

South Sudan - 2.4M

Myanmar - 1.2M

Somalia - 986K

(IRC October 2018)

The social founders of the more established refugee charities, founded in response to refugee crises in World War II, Africa, Vietnam and Bosnia, have now stepped down or passed away. But their organisations, including the Red Cross and Red Crescent, World Jewish Relief, the International Rescue Committee, Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid and many more, still provide vital services and influence.

The Refugee Council was one of many organisations born in direct response to the UN Convention for Refugees, created after World War II to ensure refugees were able to find safety in other countries. Social founder Dame Anne May Curwen (1889-1973) travelled and worked across much of Europe during WWII, gaining a deep commitment to the world’s refugees, a commitment which lasted all her life.

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In 1951, Dame Anne founded the British Council for Aid to Refugees, one of two organisations that would merge to become the Refugee Council, now one of the leading charities in the UK working directly with refugees, providing them with practical and emotional support to help them rebuild their lives and play a full part in society.

We also profile below the founders of the well-established Refugee Action and the City of Sanctuary Movement, two high impact founders profoundly influenced by their faith.

More recently, the refugee crisis that has unfolded across Europe has moved people to establish new and innovative responses to supporting refugees. The creation of large refugee camps in Calais, Greece and Jordan, and the wider refugee movements from Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Myanmar in the last 10 years has inspired a new generation of social founders in the UK and Europe.

"Doing nothing was no longer an option."

Steve Bedlam, Co-Founder of the volunteer-run and donation-based Refugee Community Kitchen that he set up in 2015.

Innovative social founders, such as Mike Butcher at Techfugees and Zufi Deo at BizGees, are using tech and financial solutions to support refugees and harness their talents; others are engaging and connecting new supporters through digital campaigns and mobilising people around hashtags like #HelpCalais, which eventually led to the creation of the charity Help Refugees.

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A myriad of grassroots initiatives are channelling the energy and passion of young social founders, like Fardous Bahbouh, a refugee herself, and founder of Ahlan Wa Sahlan -Welcome, a group that welcomes Syrian refugees to London and helps them integrate.

Social Founders focus on a wide range of solutions and activities

Our social founders’ approaches and solutions to refugee crises span a wide range of strategies – from campaigning to providing food; from arts and media to housing; from innovative tech to focussing on young refugees, older refugees, women and families.

We pick up on some of these themes and more below. And to receive our newsletter regularly sign up here.

1. Food, cooking, growing

Many refugee camps around the world are lacking the resources to sufficiently meet the needs of the number of refugees living there, and camp authorities may need to distribute rations of food below the healthy calorie limit in order to make their resources stretch further. Charities such as Help Refugees are providing additional food and meals in camps around the world.

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"Help Refugees is not simply another aid organisation. We’re a group of everyday people, taking joint action to improve lives of refugees. In less than two years, we’ve become the biggest facilitator of grassroots aid on the continent, with more than 80 projects across Europe and the Middle East." Josie Naughton, Founder, Help Refugees

For refugees who are still travelling to safety, food can be hard to come by. Refugee Community Kitchen, co-founded by Steve Bedlam, responds to this need directly, serving 2.5 million nourishing meals with dignity and respect since December 2015 in London, Calais and Dunkirk.

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"We are also providing a moment in the day where people can gather and connect. Our food distributions recreate a sense of community and provide a safe space for medical and legal services, safeguarding groups and other support.”  Steve Bedlam, Co-founder, Refugee Community Kitchen

The tiny Team Bananas Supper Club took a different approach. Formed by a group of friends from London in 2017, led by Lilly and Ina, many had spent a significant part of the previous 2 years volunteering in Greece with the charity Team Bananas, which distributes bananas to children, pregnant and breastfeeding women in the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek/Macedonian border, and the military camps around Thessaloniki.

At the supper clubs, which continue to grow in popularity, guests eat a volunteer-cooked 3-5 course meal, learn about the great work of refugee charities and enjoy music and activities. All profits are donated to Team Bananas, to One Happy Family Community Centre in Lesvos, and other organisations working with refugees in Greece.

2. Arts, music and media

Artists are seeking to engage the public with refugee issues through theatre, art, film and photography. In a London theatre The Jungle immerses its audiences in the atmosphere and stories of the Calais refugee camp, working closely with charity Help Refugees founded by Josie Naughton, and Good Chance Theatre, founded by two young British playwrights, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, in 2015.

"Through theatre and art, Good Chance creates new kinds of communities to empower artists from across the world and connect people, stories and cultures."  Co-founders of Good Chance, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson

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Cuban artist Tanya Brugeira's exhibition at Tate Modern takes the story of a Syrian refugee as the basis for an innovative interactive art project in the Turbine Hall, while also promoting the Immigrant Movement International Tanya has founded.

Giles Duley founded the Legacy of War Foundation against all odds:

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In 2011 Giles Duley, a professional war photographer, stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost both legs and an arm. Amazingly he survived, and in 2017, inspired by the stories of those he had met and continues to meet through his work as a photographer, he founded the charity Legacy of War Foundation, using his photography, story-telling and media skills, with the support of Massive Attack, to give a voice to refugees.

Read more about Giles's story in our Social Founder Gallery.

Vivienne Francis founded the Refugee Journalism Project to support, train and find employment for refugees with professional journalism and media skills.

"We are just as proud of the person who got a contract with the BBC as we are with the person who had an article published in English for the first time."

Vivienne Francis, Founder, The Refugee Journalism Project

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Here is a link to our Q&A with Vivienne about her own founder experience.

UK communications charity Media Trust. , which I founded in 1994, trains and mentors refugees and refugee organisations, amongst many others, to have a powerful and diverse voice in both mainstream and social media. Media professionals and journalists have vital access to refugee voices, experiences and talent through the connections and opportunities provided by Media Trust.

"What's really interesting about volunteering through Media Trust is that it's not a one-way journey. We media professionals have the opportunity to get as much out of it as the people to whom we can offer our support. Of course, there's the notion of engaging with the world around us and giving something back, but you will also find that volunteering offers access to a wide and diverse range of voices and viewpoints, and you can sometimes discover new talent, teach yourself new skills and generally escape your own work bubble and appreciate things from a different perspective."

Kamal Ahmed, BBC Economics Editor and Media Trust Trustee

Natasha Walter, founder of Women for Refugee Women, has used her own journalism and writing skills to create widespread impact for her charity. Interestingly she first approached existing refugee and women's charities with her idea, but they did not want it. So undeterred she set up a new high-impact charity to give voice to, and support, refugee women.

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"I am particularly proud of the fact that we have carved out space for the voices of refugee women to be heard. Through building the confidence and skills of refugee women, and creating opportunities for them to speak out - including research projects, arts projects, events and media connections - their stories are being heard more widely and in a way that builds empathy and hopefully lays the ground for genuine change."

Natasha Walter, Founder, Women for Refugee Women

Read more about Natasha's social founder journey in our Q&A feature with her here.

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3. Tech and investment solutions

If the 18,000 members of Techfugees are any indication, there is a tremendous desire within the tech community to support refugees. Moved by the plight of refugees in Europe, Mike Butcher MBE, Editor at Large of TechCrunch, formed a voluntary team in 2005 to create the series of non-profit “Techfugees” conferences and hackathons. Mike gathers tech engineers, designers, entrepreneurs and start-ups together with NGOs and other agencies to address the challenge of refugee migration, and crucially harnesses and develops the entrepreneurial tech skills of refugees themselves.

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“What did strike me was that we’re living in a world where you can get your laundry delivered in an hour, so why can’t we save a refugee?”

Mike Butcher MBE, Founder, Techfugees

Zufi Deo, co-founder of BizGees, takes a slightly different approach, "transforming refugees into entrepreneurs", by providing tailored training in finance and technology to refugees so they can join the financial system and launch their own enterprises.

The award-winning BizGees brings together groups of professionals using their commercial and financial expertise to support the development of start-ups by refugee entrepreneurs through alternative, collaborative, informal, and peer-to-peer finance methods. Like an increasing, but still rare, number of organisations, BizGees uses blockchain technology for social good.

Zufi Deo, Founder, BizGees

Zufi tells us more about his founder story with BizGees here.

4. Housing and well-being

When Mareike Geiling, a 28-year-old German teaching in Cairo, decided to donate her vacant room to a Malian refugee, she set in motion the events that led to the creation of Refugees Welcome, the renowned international organisation connecting people living in flatshares and houses with refugees in need of accommodation.

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Other social founders have recognised the value of giving a refugee a place to sleep:

In Holland, Takecarebnb was founded in 2015 by Reinout de Kraker. While staying at an Airbnb, he read about the resistance among part of the population against the influx of refugees. His idea was simple: if refugees stay over with Dutch people, both parties learn to know one another. Strangers will become well-known people. He enthused an entire group of volunteers.

In the UK Sara Nathan founded Refugees at Home, a charity aiming to connect those with a spare room in their home with asylum seekers and refugees in need of accommodation. 

But the impact of displacement does not necessarily end once a refugee has found a new home. Several social founders have sought to help refugees deal with the physical and psychological effects of violence.

Freedom from Torture's Founder

Helen Bamber, Founder of The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, committed her life to supporting survivors of torture. In 1985, operating at first from a hut in the yard of the Amnesty International office, Helen and the five other founding members of Freedom from Torture began, with survivors, documenting evidence of torture. Today, over 57,000 survivors of torture have been referred to the organisation, which is one of the world's largest support centres.

Helen Bamber OBE, Founder, Freedom from Torture

"People often ask me why I have spent most of my life concerned with the consequences of conflict and violence. The honest answer is difficult. It is about the suffering of refugees. It is about the short life of compassion, how quickly it is born and how quickly it dies. It is about the stranger to whom we owe nothing. It is how our society will be judged and how we discover our humanity." 

Helen Bamber OBE (1925-2014), Founder, Freedom from Torture (The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture)

5. Faith is a huge driver

In researching the founders of organisations for refugees, I was struck by how many were motivated by their faith. "I have determined to take simple steps to seek justice, mercy and humility in policy and procedure.” writes Revd. Dr. Inderjit Bhogal OBE, founder of the City of Sanctuary movement. “As a Methodist Minister, and Pastor, I have worked with others, especially in Churches, to critique and challenge policy and procedure where it has been unjust and discriminatory.”

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“When I first shared the idea of Sheffield as a City of Sanctuary in 2005, I expected us to work four or five years to realise our objective. But after just two years we’d become a national movement and had the support of the Refugee Council.

The idea of Sanctuary is catching the imagination of people.

Revd. Dr. Inderjit Bhogal OBE, Founder, City of Sanctuary movement.

Read more about Revd. Dr. Inderjit Bhogal OBE here.

The Revd. Colin Hodgetts, founder of Refugee Action, similarly saw social action as central to his role as a clergyman. “There were many clergy who became engaged as worker-priests, liberation theologians and opponents of apartheid and racial discrimination. Colin was one of them.” writes his friend, renowned Indian activist Satish Kumar.

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There's a feature on our website about Revd. Hodgett's work setting up Refugee Action

Across Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Christian communities there has been a groundswell of support for refugees, building on a long tradition across all faiths, across generations of social founders. To make sure you hear about our newest social founder news and profiles sign up here to our newsletter.

From local to global - social founders are supporting refugees.

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The spectrum of founders making change happen, harnessing volunteers, experts, donors, governments, voices and media, is powerful and inspirational. Social founders create positive change across our world.

The refugee founder stories we have shared this month are just a very few, and very UK-based. There are so many more to celebrate. You can see some of their profiles in our Social Founder gallery here.

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