Post-conflict (fragile) states are home to the poorest populations in the world. The exclusion of vulnerable groups, such as migrants, from economic opportunities can negatively impact the stability of already fragile societies, which hampers economic growth and even risks a return to conflict. At the same time, diaspora communities from fragile states can play an important role in their country’s path to recovery and prosperity. As a result, SPARK’s work focuses increasingly on these marginalised groups, such as refugees and migrants, helping them to develop the knowledge, skills and networks necessary to enter the job market or start their own business so they can contribute to the economic growth in their country of origin.

SPARK best practices in migration

SPARK’s Migrant Entrepreneurship Programme (MEP) was instigated in 2014 and encompasses activities in Afghanistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Ghana, Morocco, Somalia and Surinam. The idea underlying this programme is to activate the potential of diaspora communities to engage in business development in their countries of origin. It tar- gets migrant entrepreneurs by supporting them to either set up a business or a branch of an existing business in their home countries.

A valuable lesson was learnt as a result of MEP activities in Somalia. During the implementation, SPARK noticed tensions between diaspora returnees and locals, particularly in the perception that the diaspora has a certain advantage over the locals who had remained in the country. SPARK adapted the project to include local students and the project now provides young Somali entrepreneurs with the opportunity to connect with their more experienced diaspora counterparts.

Programme activities initially focused on promotion, holding early business skills trainings, business plan competitions and identifying entrepreneurs who will receive support in the coming years. In 2015, the programme progressed  to  providing  assistance  to  entrepreneurs and SMEs. Training was provided to 84 entrepreneurs through 4-module group training; the Business Plan Competition resulted in 64 entrepreneurs being awarded with one-to-one business coaching; and 26 diaspora entrepreneurs received support in conducting local market research, supported by our local Business Support Centre – of these 26, 19 started their own business.

In addition to these important milestones, Africa House, Somalia’s first SME incubator, is supported as part of the programme and assists young entrepreneurs in establishing a business as well as promoting the expansion of established small and medium-sized enterprises through business skills training, advice and coaching. A business tech start-up competition, the Muhadis Challenge, aimed at University students from Hargeisa, provided a two- month accelerator programme, a media programme promoting entrepreneurship among youth, and a network of mentors, investors and partners.

Other SPARK projects on migration

SPARK also operates a number of major projects de- signed to assist refugees fleeing the devastating conflict in Syria. As with all SPARK projects, these projects aim for a high gender component and 54% of participants are women. In 2013 SPARK established an office in Gaziantep, Turkey, to respond to the growing refugee crisis and to support youth education in Syria. Further presence and programming has been established since in Jordan and Lebanon as well as an expansion of the Iraq (KRG) office.

SPARK’s projects in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq (KRG) and Syria are designed to contribute to political and economic stability by upgrading the skills and knowledge of moderate young Syrians in subjects with immediate relevance for dealing with emergency and transition in Syria. Through these projects SPARK has offered a number of integrated solutions designed to empower Syrian students in the region. This integrated approach has opened up a complete range of education opportunities, which include scholarships for courses in the Netherlands, enhancing education opportunities in those countries that have experienced the greatest in- flux of Syrian refugees and also working in Syria itself to help counter the severe disruption to education services caused by the conflict. SPARK’s response to the crisis in Syria has resulted in the establishment of five higher vocational institutes focusing on key skills in agriculture and nursing. In five neighbouring countries that have been enormously burdened by unprecedented numbers of refugees, partnerships have been agreed with HE in- stitutions to provide 10,000 Syrians with the skills needed to reconstruct their country, with more than 1,500 scholarships awarded during the first three months. This intervention includes a crucial capacity-building component designed to enable these HE institutions to manage the influx of Syrian students in a manner that is sensitive to the specific needs of the refugee populations.

Additionally, 140 scholarships per year have been secured for short vocational courses at higher education institutions in the Netherlands. In Turkey, where there are tensions between the local community and the large and growing refugee population, SPARK’s response has been tailored to ease these tensions by organising intensive business skills training to members of both communities with the aim of mitigating the impact of the refugee crisis and enabling young Syrians and Turks to improve their employment prospects.

Migrant entrepreneur story

A’QADIR MADAR & ISMAIL OMAR – Tabsan Waste Management, Somalia

Business active: since 2010                  Employees: 18                  Jobs created: 110

In Somalia waste management services often serve merely to move waste from populated to uninhabited areas of the city. Tabsan Waste Management – a business operated by Somali émigrés returning from the UK – aims to improve these practices by launching recycling services and proper disposal techniques. This is an emerging sector in Somalia and one challenge is that many of the residents can’t afford waste management services, so continue to throw rubbish into adjacent streets.

‘Despite such obstacles the positives outweigh the negatives,’ says A’qadir Madar, one of the entrepreneurs behind Tabsan. ‘My ability to provide jobs to my neighbours, when employment opportunities remain scarce, makes me very proud,’ he adds.

SPARK has provided Tabsan Waste Management with the training necessary to meet many of its challenges and the company is due to undergo tailored coaching in the near future. SPARK is also supporting Tabsan to overcome one of the main hurdles faced by SMEs in post-conflict societies, access to finance. Tabsan have drafted a business plan in which SPARK plans to invest, pending an agreement with a financial institution.

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