From migrants and refugees to successful entrepreneurs

Startups without borders helps refugee and migrant entrepreneurs. (Supplied)
Updated 30 August 2019

From migrants and refugees to successful entrepreneurs

  • Argentinian journalist Valentina Primo started Startups Without Borders in Egypt six years ago
  • Migrants and refugees often lack connections and awareness of the startup ecosystem

CAIRO: What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur? Some would say grit and resilience are among the qualities required. 

However, there is one point many overlook: A proper climate. Unfortunately, that is something refugees and migrants usually lack. 

According to estimates by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 25 million people are refugees worldwide. How can they hope to become successful entrepreneurs in environments foreign to them?

Valentina Primo founded Startups Without Borders (SWB) in pursuit of the answer to that question. 

The 34-year-old Argentinian journalist moved to Egypt six years ago, covering various success stories while trying to understand the Middle East without the bias that exists in much media coverage.

“I found hundreds of entrepreneurs who were creating new realities, and were taking it upon themselves to create a new future for their countries,” she said.

“If we talk about a startup ecosystem,  why not one for people who don’t have a home?”

Primo delved deeper into entrepreneurship in the region. “I realized that media does play a fundamental role in building a startup ecosystem, not only because it helped entrepreneurs showcase what they were doing, but also because it was providing a role model for Arab youth to realize there’s a way,” she said.

Primo began approaching refugee entrepreneurs to tell their stories, and it proved to be a turning point in her career.

“Their stories were incredibly inspiring, so I thought, ‘Why not create a media platform that highlights those stories?’” she said.

Initially meant as a media platform, it developed into a global community. “By growing a database of organizations that were supporting refugee entrepreneurs, I realized that they really needed to meet,” Primo said.

“If we always talk about a startup ecosystem for every country in the world, why not have one for people who don’t have a home?”

Primo worked on bringing those people together, but more needed to happen as they identified the main problem for refugee and migrant entrepreneurs: Lack of networks, connections and awareness of the startup ecosystem.

The organization has now established events in Cairo and Italy to connect migrants and refugees in a startup ecosystem, offerring support and fostering ideas. (Supplied)

“We started creating a series of events in Cairo, and now Italy, for them to get in touch and integrate with the startup ecosystem,” she said.

To join the network, an entrepreneur simply needs to register on the website, upon which SWB includes them in its database.

“We pair them up with mentors,” Primo said. “We offer workshops, we do pitching competitions, and we always partner with local incubators and accelerators because we’re not looking to create a separate cluster of startups, but to bring those two worlds together.”

While SWB does provide some training, its goal was never to teach the essentials of becoming an entrepreneur. 

“We have a database of over 200 organizations that offer boot camps, training, incubation, or acceleration focused directly on migrants and refugees,” she said.

SWB is launching a chatbot that anyone can use to find those resources. “Our vision is to build a real-world movement where newcomers — migrants or refugees — are seen as an opportunity and a source of enriching culture. We want to have chapters around the world,” Primo said.

SWB had to deal with the typical challenges facing a social startup, the hardest being assembling a team that shared the same vision. 

“We’re so lucky to have 35 amazing volunteers in different countries that help out in different ways,” Primo said.

“The first people who wrote to me to give feedback about the launch of the website and offer help were refugee entrepreneurs.”

As the pieces fall into place and the vision of an “ecosystem builder” takes shape, SWB has numerous plans for the future.

“We’re planning a summit in Cairo for the end of this year. We’re also working on a platform with access to the directory of startups.”

The organization has just launched a podcast that will feature a series of interviews with industry leaders and influential people in the scene, all of them migrants and refugees.

“Each interview is focused on a lesson learned, a particular skill, or tips,” Primo said. “It’s educational content, but it’s also very interesting and heart-warming stories.”


•  This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

Qatar’s BeIN chairman, two others indicted in bribery case

Updated 20 February 2020

Qatar’s BeIN chairman, two others indicted in bribery case

  • Former FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke charged with accepting bribes, among others
  • Al-Khelaifi charged with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement

GENEVA: Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was charged Thursday by Swiss federal prosecutors in connection with a wider bribery investigation linked to World Cup television rights.

The office of Switzerland’s attorney general filed an indictment charging Al-Khelaifi with inciting former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke “to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

The Qatari football and television executive, however, no longer faces an accusation of bribery. Following a three-year investigation, FIFA reached an “amicable agreement” with Al-Khelaifi last month, prosecutors said, to drop its criminal complaint relating to the awarding of 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights to Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports.

Al-Khelaifi is the head of Doha-based BeIN Sports and also a member of the UEFA executive committee.

Al-Khelaifi was indicted for his alleged part in providing Valcke — who had influence over the awarding of World Cup rights until being removed from office in 2015 — with use of a luxury villa in Sardinia without paying rent valued at up to €1.8 million ($1.94 million).

Valcke was charged with accepting bribes, “several counts of aggravated criminal mismanagement … and falsification of documents.”

For the first time in the five-year investigation of FIFA business, Swiss prosecutors revealed that they believe Valcke received kickbacks totaling €1.25 million to steer World Cup rights toward favored broadcasters in Italy and Greece.

A third person who was not identified was charged with bribery over those payments and also for inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

Al-Khelaifi was appointed to the UEFA executive committee, representing European football clubs, one year ago despite being implicated in the bribery case. He is also an influential board member of the European Club Association, which is seeking to drive reforms in the Champions League to favor elite clubs such as French champion PSG.

He denied wrongdoing after being questioned in 2017 and 2019 in connection with criminal proceedings opened three years ago.

Al-Khelaifi has also been implicated in a separate corruption investigation by French prosecutors that is linked to Qatar seeking hosting rights for the track and field world championships. Doha hosted the 2019 edition.