Support and social cohesion: refugee entrepreneurship in Turkey

We spoke to Hilal Gerçek during our Global Youth Entrepreneurship Summit, discussing the work of Youth Business International (YBI)’s member in Turkey, Habitat and integrating refugees in their entrepreneurship programmes.

Why did you choose to attend YBI’s Global Summit? 

We know that it’s really important to be part of a global network, where you can learn a lot from each other. YBI is one of the best networks in the world for us because of our collective focus on social impact. For this reason, attending their Global Youth Entrepreneurship Summit was crucial as it gave us the opportunity to meet so many people who all shared solutions for tackling similar problems and also to share our own experiences. It is extremely empowering for us as an organisation to share the stage with such a diverse mix of expertise and experience as it will enable us to move forward in our journey. As I go back home, I know that if I have a problem, I can find a solution and support in this global community.

Tell us about your role and the organisation.

I am the Entrepreneurship Director at Habitat. We run programmes for refugees, women and young people. We provide them entrepreneurship training at different levels all around Turkey and support them with mentoring. We also offer children other training, for example in coding, enabling them to think outside of the box and be more creative. We run hackathons, where we give participants challenges to come up with a solution for social problems, encouraging them to think creatively. We want to inspire children to learn about entrepreneurship and eventually be able to contribute to their community as an entrepreneur.

What do you think are the main challenges for refugees in entrepreneurship?

Firstly, it’s not very easy for them to get premises and to navigate the legal procedures. The banks also don’t authorise credits of any kind for refugees/people under temporary protection. The political view also sometimes changes regarding the attitudes towards people on the move. There are still prejudices in our society. We are asked why we support refugees when there are already unemployed young Turkish people in Turkey, but our projects target both refugees and host communities, encouraging collaborations and partnerships between them. We believe in the refugees’ potential to become thriving entrepreneurs as much as Turkish citizens’. Especially since most of them are very qualified, have a degree, have technical knowledge and/or were entrepreneurs in their own countries. We believe that they will contribute a lot to our community with their experiences.

How do you think refugee and migrant entrepreneurs can contribute to better social cohesion?

We have mostly had a mixed group of participants from both communities, especially when we have provided translation during the trainings. Our research on Social Cohesion of Turkish and Refugee Youth highlighted the prejudices against refugees and the importance of shared spaces to create social cohesion. So we now have a mixed group, where participants can apply to the hackathons and come together with the host community. It helps that we have Arabic speaking trainers as this is a way for the refugees to feel included. In addition to entrepreneurship training, we also have training for mediation, conflict management, design thinking, and soft skills to nurture a deeper connection. We also have social events, for example, iMECE Band. iMECE means that you do something positive for the community together. It involves a three-day music camp for refugees and the host community. Musicians who don’t know each other come together, create a group and compose a song with the support of experts. At the end of the camp, they perform the song at one of the biggest hubs in Istanbul. It really helps participants to get engaged in the culture and eliminate prejudices, so it’s very good for social cohesion.

Can this programme be replicated in other countries facing similar challenges with people on the move?

Yes, I think so but of course, we must think in terms of the host community conditions, and the refugees’ conditions, socio-political situations etc. It’s not always easy. The attitude and culture of the host community is very important to the refugees. If it is localised, I think that the programme can be replicated.

To find out more about Habitat and their work, visit their member profile.

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