Give something meaningful: 10 gifts to support refugee businesses this holiday season

By Natasha Freidus and John Kluge

Manyang Kher, founder of 734 Coffee

Manyang Kher, founder of 734 Coffee

Manyang Kher says his earliest memories are of war, death, and a struggle to survive. He became one of the so-called “Lost Boys” at age 3, when he fled civil war in Sudan and spent 13 years living in refugee camps in Ethiopia. Eventually, Manyang was resettled in Richmond, Virginia, where he earned a degree in international law at the University of Richmond.

Today at age 29, Manyang is the founder of 734 Coffee, a Virginia-based social enterprise that aims to support the education of displaced children like him through coffee. 734 Coffee’s beans are harvested by refugee growers in the Gambela region of Ethiopia – at 7˚N 34˚E – where hundreds of thousands of displaced South Sudanese citizens like Manyang now live. After the coffee comes to the US, 80% of coffee sales’ proceeds support educational scholarships for refugees of Sudan.

Manyang is just one of over 180,000 refugee entrepreneurs living in the United States. Even though these entrepreneurs’ businesses contribute to economies at both the local level and the national level in host countries, many face significant barriers to accessing the money and support they need to grow their businesses. Fortunately, their ability to overcome those challenges is also significant – both the data and the stories show that refugees are indeed employable, hardworking, credit-worthy, and ultimately, investable.

The holiday season is a great time to think about how we can each support these refugee entrepreneurs. As you think about what to give your loved ones this season, why not skip the scented candles and ugly sweaters and instead give a gift that will support refugee entrepreneurs and businesses that support displaced people?

Chatterbox offers language courses delivered by refugees.

Chatterbox offers language courses delivered by refugees.

Check out the list below for a few ideas from Needslist and the Refugee Investment Network of gifts that allow you to be part of this story of refugee potential. (You can even create and print a simple holiday card that tells the story behind the gift you’ve chosen.) Supporting refugee entrepreneurs and businesses is something we can all celebrate this holiday season – we hope you and your loved ones will join us!

  1. Give a loan to a refugee entrepreneur. Many refugees – hoping to start their own businesses to support themselves, their families, and their host communities – have no access to financial services to help them rebuild, as banks consider them too risky. Through Kiva, you can make a loan in honor of a loved one to help a refugee entrepreneur build their business, even with something as small as $25.

  2. Give urgently needed supplies to displaced people worldwide. Choose a few items from the enterprise Needslist – from diapers for refugee families in Greece, to tents for migrants at the US-Mexico border – and you are providing a physical gift for someone who needs it now. Needslist also allows you to note if your purchase is in honor of a loved one.

  3. Give coffee that empowers refugees of Sudan. 734 Coffee is Manyang Kher’s Virginia-based social enterprise selling coffee harvested by growers in the Gambela region of Ethiopia – at 7˚N 34˚E – where over 200,000 displaced South Sudanese citizens now live after fleeing war, atrocities, drought, and famine in South Sudan. Coffee sale proceeds support educational scholarships for refugees of Sudan. 15% off until Dec 14th  Discount Code: NEEDLIST.

  4. Give a “Coloring Without Borders” coloring book to children in your life. This coloring book features illustrations from 80+ professional artists from around the world and will help children understand the talents of global artists. All proceeds go to Families Belong Together, an organization that works to permanently end family separation and detention, seek accountability for the harm that's been done, and to immediately reunite all families that have been torn apart.

  5. Give an upcycled tote bag that supports refugee creators. RAMZI bags are made entirely of materials from clothes waste and reclaimed life jacket parts by Makers Unite, a group of local and refugee co-creators. All proceeds are invested in the group’s social inclusion program supporting refugees in their access to the labor market.

  6. Give a work of art created by a refugee. Love Without Borders facilitates art workshops for refugees and sells refugee-created art. Their mission is to provide refugees in Greece with a source of emotional expression and economic self-empowerment while giving them a platform to spread awareness of the conditions in which they live and their varied and largely unmet needs.

  7. Give your time and skills. Make a plan with your loved one to volunteer with an organization supporting refugees as they build self-reliance in a new country. Among other organizations, the International Rescue Committee has several opportunities for volunteers to provide support like family mentoring, tax preparation, and career advisory in offices in Silver Spring, MD, Charlottesville, VA and around the country.

  8. Give the gift of language.  Know someone eager to learn Arabic, Farsi, Spanish or Mandarin? Through refugee-owned business Chatterbox, you can practice conversation or receive personalized language lessons online with refugees as your teachers. Chatterbox currently offers 12 languages and through its teachers provide employment and training for refugees from academic, professional, and industrial backgrounds. Use the code HOLIDAYGIFT for 15% off courses.

  9. Give soap made by refugees. If you are going to buy soap this holiday season, why not by Preemptive Love’s soap that is made by refugees and supports their employment and training? Through their platform you can also find candles and knitwear created by refugees, or choose a specific “gift that empowers” such as a month of educational therapeutic play for a refugee child.

  10. Give a book that will tell the refugee story. For many of us, there is no better gift than a book. Hear the refugee story from refugees themselves with The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives. If you want to understand refugees through a political family drama novel, try North of Dawn by Somali author Nuruddin Farah. Your loved ones interested in the long-term solutions for forced migration will enjoy Failure and Hope: Fighting for the Rights of the Forcibly Displaced by Dr. Christine Mahoney.


Natasha Freidus is the Founder of Needslist, the world’s first online marketplace serving communities displaced by climate change and conflict and disrupting the humanitarian aid space.

John Kluge is Founder and Managing Director of the Refugee Investment Network, the first impact investing and blended finance collaborative dedicated to creating long-term solutions to global forced migration.

Sara Beatty