On International Women’s Day, celebrating women entrepreneurs who are changing the refugee narrative

At the Refugee Investment Network (RIN), we’re lucky to collaborate closely with women entrepreneurs who are changing the narrative around refugees – whether as accomplished refugees themselves or as leaders of businesses that support refugees and host communities.

These women are critical to our mission of shifting the political and social dialogue about the value of refugees and unlocking investment deals that create new jobs and measurably improve the livelihood opportunities for refugees and their host communities. Historically, both women and displaced people have faced outsized challenges to accessing the capital they need to build and grow their businesses. Investors often cite the myths that there is a lack of dealflow of women-led businesses and refugee-led or -supporting businesses. We know these myths to be false, but they are an unfortunate function of both bias (explicit and unconscious) and a lack of diversity and flexibility when it comes to capital expectations and terms.

Leaders in the impact sector have made important strides in changing this status quo through their mainstreaming of “gender lens investing,” or as Suzanne Biegel, one of its greatest champions described to News Deeply, “integrating a financial analysis and a gender analysis to get to a better outcome.” Calvert Impact Capital, for example, recently released a report titled “Just Good Investing: Why gender matters to your portfolio and what you can do about it” that shares the group’s practical guidance for creating a gender inclusive investment strategy, based on the evolution of their own gender-lens investment approach over the past seven years.

Also critical to this movement, OPIC created the 2X Women’s Initiative that aims to mobilize $1 billion in capital to invest in the world’s women and unlock the multi-trillion dollar investment opportunity they represent. Through gender lens investing, OPIC provides women in developing countries access to finance, jobs, and services that enhance economic opportunity.

This model and the important momentum behind gender lens investing inspired the RIN’s refugee lens, which we launched through our report Paradigm Shift. The refugee lens is an investor’s framework to qualify and track investments over time and to respond to the question “What is a refugee investment?” and gives investors a first-of-its-kind lens to assess and qualify prospective and historical deals as refugee investments. Entrepreneurs can also use the lens to identity and market themselves to investors interested in impact focused on inclusion, refugees, or migration.

Similar to women entrepreneurs, refugee entrepreneurs are often overlooked. They must overcome high perceived risks by investors, restrictive economic policies, and challenges integrating into host communities, among other barriers – yet the data show they are entrepreneurial, hardworking, and creditworthy. When presented with access to labor markets, refugees often invest in their host communities, introduce innovative ideas, and offer a net gain to the local economy.

At the intersection of gender and refugee lens investing, the bottom line is clear: women are creating significant value as refugee entrepreneurs and as entrepreneurs supporting refugees. Investors who are overlooking women and refugees are missing out on an enormous opportunity.

We at the RIN are humbled to collaborate with women entrepreneurs every day – but wanted to pause a moment on International Women’s Day to celebrate a few of the impressive women entrepreneurs around the world who are changing the refugee narrative:

Wafaa Arbash of WorkAround

Refugee investment type: R3 - Refugee supporting   

Wafaa Arbash

Wafaa Arbash

Wafaa started WorkAround because she wanted to find a more sustainable solution to the refugee crisis than perpetual aid. Her solution? WorkAround connects highly-educated and internet-connected Syrian refugees with opportunities to engage in “micro-work” through companies needing human intelligence tasks.


Mursal Hedayat of Chatterbox

Refugee investment type: R1 - Refugee owned, R3 - Refugee supporting   

Mursal Hedayat

Mursal Hedayat

Mursal came to the UK as a refugee from Afghanistan with her mom and saw firsthand the challenges refugees face in finding work that makes use of their advanced degrees and valuable skills from back home. She started Chatterbox to bridge this disconnect by training and employing displaced people to teach their native languages in the booming online and in-person language learning industry.


Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf of Five One Labs

Refugee investment type: R3 - Refugee supporting

Alice Bosely and Patricia Letayf

Alice Bosely and Patricia Letayf

Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf met while completing their masters degree and co-founded Five One Labs to realize their common passion: helping refugees and women help their communities. Today, Five One Labs is an incubator that helps refugees and other conflict-affected entrepreneurs grow their businesses in the Middle East, ultimately empowering individuals to rebuild their lives and supporting the economic growth of their communities.


Lina Zdruli of Dafero

Refugee investment type: R3 - Refugee supporting

Lina Zdruli

Lina Zdruli

Lina Zdruli wrote her MA thesis at Georgetown on private sector solutions for refugee employment and, today, she is driving one such solution herself. Lina founded Dafero in February 2018 as a food startup that employs refugee women, including through a partnership with the International Rescue Committee in Maryland that connects Dafero with a pipeline of refugee women seeking work.

Yasmine Mustafa of Roar for Good

Refugee investment type: R1 - Refugee led

Yasmine Mustafa

Yasmine Mustafa

Through her journey emigrating from Kuwait to the U.S, and realizing she was undocumented upon trying to apply to college, Yasmine Mustafa saw an intersecting challenge: that women face the threat of harassment, assault, and violence every day. In response, she co-founded Roar for Good, a company that develops wearables that protect women from assault by allowing users to share their location with loved ones and emit a loud alarm at the touch of a button.


Marcela Torres of Hola Code

Refugee investment type: R3 - Refugee supporting   

Marcela Torres

Marcela Torres

Marcela Torres and her co-founder created Hola Code to address two key challenges – Mexico’s current lack of high-quality tech talent and migrants’ difficulties reintegrating when they return to Mexico. Hola Code is a five-month software engineering program focused on integrating returned or deported migrants and refugees in Mexico while also filling the global demand for software engineers.


Natasha Freidus and Amanda Levinson of
NeedsList

Refugee investment type: R3 - Refugee supporting

Natasha Freidus and Amanda Levinson

Natasha Freidus and Amanda Levinson

Natasha and Amanda founded NeedsList after seeing the two main obstacles businesses and governments face during times of humanitarian crisis or natural disaster: the lack of a simple tool for groups to communicate needs from the ground up, and the absence of any form of aggregated real-time data for these needs. Today, NeedsList fills those gaps as a real-time needs registry for disaster relief and humanitarian aid by aggregating needs from vetted nonprofits and matching them with corporate resources to increase the speed, efficiency, and transparency of crisis response.

Which women entrepreneurs are you celebrating today? Tell us on Twitter at @RefugeeInvest using #IWD2019.

Look for the RIN’s Founder and Managing Director John Kluge speaking on International Women’s Day at the Nexus Philanthropy Summit and at One Journey’s Celebration of Women Refugee Entrepreneurs.










Sara Beatty