Irina, a refugee from Ukraine, wants to open her own salad bar in Ambelokipi. Mamadou is planning to open his own mini-market that will stay open late and also sell products from his home country.
Irina and Mamadou, together with eight more recognized refugees who wish to open their own business in Greece, were selected in order to attend the entrepreneurship of refugees and migrants project, implemented by METAdrasi with the support of UNHCR. The obstacles, especially at the crucial stage of finding funding, are many, but already the results of the project justify the effort.
Read the article by journalist Dimitris Angelidis in the newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton, here.
Read the article translated in English, below.
When refugees make their dream come true
By Dimitris Angelidis
Thanks to the support of METAdrasi -which, together with UNHCR, implements project for the entrepreneurship of refugees- many people have already managed to flesh out an idea they had for their own business – The obstacles, especially at the crucial stage of finding funding, are many, but already the results of the project justify the effort
If the Greek state had not put obstacles to the integration of refugees who want to stay and create in Greece, Irina would probably have already managed to have her own business in Athens. Her business idea is simple and has all the makings of success. The 35-year-old refugee from Ukraine discovered, when she arrived in Athens, that pastries and snacks for a quick lunch were plentiful, while healthier options were hard to come by, such as the fresh salads she was used to getting in Kiev from salad bars, fast-food outlets that prepare salads on the spot with ingredients of your choice.
As she later learned, salad bars have begun to appear sporadically in Athens, especially in more central and expensive markets, in Kolonaki and Syntagma, but not in Ambelokipi where Irina lives, a busy area because of the courts, the Police Headquarters and other services and offices that make it ideal for an alternative proposal for fast and quality food.
The refugee, who had opened her own small customs clearance business in Kiev while working as a journalist for a major TV channel, was in the autumn in a Greek language course at METAdrasi’s offices, when she heard about a refugee entrepreneurship support project launched with the support of the UNHCR. She said her idea was to set up a salad bar, initially in Ambelokipi and later, if successful, elsewhere. “Good idea,” she was told.
Out of the 80 proposals submitted, Irina’s business idea was selected together with nine other ideas from recognized refugees with work experience or studies and who speak Greek or English – people from Togo, Guinea, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Ivory Coast, the Congo, who want to open their own business in the fields of retail, beauty, IT, mobile and computer repair, catering and tourism.
In the framework of the refugee entrepreneurship counselling project that METAdrasi has been implementing since the autumn with the support of UNHCR (the programme is implemented twice a year and is part of the Stepping Stone employment support activity for refugees and migrants, which the organisation has been implementing since 2017), the refugees selected initially participate in a series of seminars and then proceed to face-to-face meetings with a specialised business consultant in order to come up with a sound business plan, capable of overcoming the obstacles of financing the initial capital.
“The next step after completing the business plan is to go to the market to seek a grant or loan. This is the big difficulty for refugees,” says Maria Theodoropoulou, a consultant in the programme with long experience in advertising and business financing. “Greek banks do not give loans unless there is a Greek guarantor, which in the case of refugees is prohibitive. Or they ask for cash collateral. So in order to give you twenty thousand euros, they ask that you have another twenty thousand in the bank, which is also prohibitive for refugees. There must be policies to change the funding regime. Let’s not forget that 25% of the US GDP comes from migrants’ and refugees’ businesses. We need to see refugee entrepreneurship as a driver of economic growth, not a barrier” she explains.
Once Irina joined the project, she spent the winter feverishly preparing her business steps. She studied articles about the restaurant industry in Greece, visited restaurants and talked to the owners and staff, went to the Renti fish market to learn about products and find suppliers, searched for stalls, windows and restaurant equipment, and carefully mapped Loukareos street across from the courts, noting what food outlets exist and what spaces are available for rent.
“When I came here, I thought I would stay for two months and return to my country. But we don’t know when the war will end. I needed a job to have some money and also for my mental health. My father is a businessman. When I opened my own business in Kiev, I realized that I can do it and that it suits me. There is something very creative about business, you have to constantly give solutions. I like it,” she says.
In mid-spring, just before she left again, as she did last summer, for the tourism season in Halkidiki, Irina was ready to complete the business plan. With the help of Maria Theodoropoulou, she did exercises filling in tables with the expenses for marketing and advertising, for creating a website, for photographing the products, for the shop’s presence in social media. She was thinking of ideas and trying to calculate the costs for the supply of raw materials, taking into account the expected loss, the so-called food waste. “You will definitely have a loss, there is no restaurant on the planet without food waste. Lettuce can spoil, cucumber can rot, you will not use 100% of the products,” she heard Theodoropoulou tell her.
And she asked her to be patient. “You can’t open the business within a month after you rent the space. You have to figure at least two months of rent before you start selling and have the first income. You have to get too many permits, from the municipality, from the departments, to get the engineer to do plans, there is a lot of paperwork.”
But above all there are the obstacles to funding. “Maybe you shouldn’t apply for an equipment grant until you see where else you could raise the money. Because they’ll see the business plan, they’ll like it, they’ll call you in for an interview and say “Fine, we’ll give you 15 thousand euros”, where are you going to get the rest? Maybe you can get money from healthy entrepreneurship programs that are starting now, you can get a loan and you can open the shop,” she advised her.
Mamadou’s mini market for people who need to buy something at night
Returning late at night to his home in Ameriki Square from Glyfada where he worked as a restaurant dish washer, Mamadou wanted to make something quick for dinner, but sometimes found the cupboards empty, much to his dismay. “I would go out to find a mini market to get something to make with some sauce and rice, but everything was closed. The only option was the kebab shops. I know a lot of people in the area who go home after midnight when everything is closed. This gave me the idea for a mini-market that would stay open late, have products from my hometown and could make home deliveries with a phone call or an email,” he says from METAdrasi’s offices. His idea was approved and Mamadou participated in the project implemented by the organisation with the support of UNHCR. He explains the business plan that he prepared with the help of consultant Maria Theodoropoulou.
His wife would run the shop in the morning, he would take over in the afternoon and in the evening, they would take turns looking after their two children. He will appeal first to acquaintances, friends and relatives living in the area. He will make offers to attract more customers. His aim is to bring products from his country through a compatriot who exports to Paris. “But first I have to open the shop. The imports will come afterwards. In business you don’t go straight into something big – you start small first and go step by step,” he says.
Mamadou graduated in Business Administration in Guinea, his wife an environmentalist. After an internship in the sales department of a large telecommunications company, he opened his own product promotion business and then two mini-markets, one in the most central market of the capital city of Conakry. As a youngster he played football and had become well known and his involvement in the opposition was annoying. After a brutal crackdown on a strike, he fled to neighbouring Sierra Leone and from there to Turkey.
He came to Greece by crossing the Evros river three years ago, when it was almost impossible to register his asylum claim. He was forced to sleep with his family in other refugees’ houses, on church steps and eventually in the camp of Corinth, from where he left to work as a farm labourer in local fields and later commuted daily to Athens to take cooking classes while he waited to be recognised as a refugee. Which happened much later.
“I had the idea early on to start a business in Athens, like the one I had in the past. But I had to have papers first. I’m not a small child, I know that I’m not in my country and that it’s not easy to integrate.
I think my idea is a good one. Of course, the power increases, inflation and the economic crisis after the war in Ukraine are discouraging, but the problem is financing. But that’s life. We try for the best and move on,” he says.
“Resilient businesses that grow quickly”
“Creating and growing a new business is not an easy task, especially for refugees, who often face very big challenges. These include complex legal and administrative procedures, difficulties in accessing finance, language barriers, sometimes limited knowledge of the local business environment, and lack of access to the markets and networks of their new home country. However, as various studies worldwide have shown, refugee entrepreneurship not only brings benefits to the local community, but it is a fact that businesses founded by refugees or migrants have the potential to grow very quickly and show high resilience. Initial barriers can be overcome through proactive policies, inclusive programmes and constructive synergies, which can ultimately lead to economic development and diverse economic activities, with employment opportunities not only for refugees but also for the local population.”
Maria Clara Martin, UNHCR’s Representative in Greece
“Beneficial both for the refugees and the economy”
“In the past three years there has been a huge labour shortage, not only in the agricultural sector, but now also in tourism, catering, construction and many other sectors. At the same time, our team is struggling every day in various services to help refugees, for whom a job has been found, to overcome bureaucratic procedures that should be simple and automated, such as issuing an Insurance Number, opening a bank account etc.
Among the hundreds of refugees who visit us, there are several with amazing ideas, the will and the knowledge, who are trying to open their own businesses. Despite the bureaucratic maze, with the support of the UNHCR we decided through the refugee entrepreneurship project to support them and already in a short time we have the first positive results. Several of them had their own business in their own country, but they were forced to give up everything because their lives and freedom were in danger. All this effort to integrate them into the Greek labour market not only helps refugees, but contributes substantially to the development of the Greek economy and it is a major issue to simplify and speed up the issuance of the necessary documents for their employment so that they can start their own businesses.”
Thodoris Blanas, head of METAdrasi’s Stepping Stone Educational Integration Programme