15 Social Enterprises Making a Difference in The Lives of Refugees

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

Although the COVID pandemic has impacted all of us in some way, already vulnerable communities – like displaced people and refugees – were disproportionately negatively affected. Not only in terms of infection and death rates, but also indirectly in terms of food insecurity, gender-based violence, fraying community relationships, racism, xenophobia, and loss of income.

Despite COVID-related movement restrictions and pleas from the international community to cooperate for the sake of COVID-19 response, displacement continued to occur over the last two years – it even grew. According to the UNHCR, 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2020. As a result, above one per cent of the world’s population – or 1 in 95 people – is now forcibly displaced. 

Like other global challenges without easy solutions, many private companies and even governments are reluctant to get involved and invest resources – which is where, once again, social entrepreneurs step in to fill the gap left by the public and private sectors. To quote David Bornstein, “Social entrepreneurs identify resources where people only see problems. They view the villagers as the solution, not the passive beneficiary. They begin with the assumption of competence and unleash resources in the communities they’re serving.

Below are 15 inspiring social enterprises from the MovingWorlds S-GRID community (and beyond) co-creating solutions that make a meaningful difference in the lives of refugees, both individually and in partnership with other ecosystem actors. Continue reading to learn more about their work and how you can support them: 

1. Fugeelah

Fugeelah is a women-led conscious jewelry brand that educates, employs and empowers children and youth seeking refuge in Malaysia. Fugeelah is committed to thoughtful sourcing, fair wages, and give-back initiatives that truly have an impact. Learn more by checking out this recent article on the Fugeelah blog about why sustainability in fashion matters during the pandemic. 

Fugeelah artisans creating one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces
Fugeelah artisans working on one-of-a-kind jewelry creations

2. Phoenix Space

Phoenix Space is a social enterprise that provides STEM education around the inspirational theme of space science to displaced students in the Middle East. Its programs, created by educational experts in collaboration with leading physicists and space scientists, increase the educational opportunities and employability of young students by helping them develop the STEM skills to improve their own lives and communities around them. 

3. Borderless360

Borderless 360 is a social enterprise that works to support refugees and others in similar circumstances to create structures and communities that serve their rights and a better life. Borderless360 aims to bridge the gap between public awareness and action through non-traditional approaches, bottom-up communication, and building shared understanding. Borderless360’s approach is grounded in the belief that refugee stories should center refugees’ leadership in responding to the challenges faced. Learn more about its Unheard Journalism Project here.

4. EveryShelter

EveryShelter is a social enterprise on a mission to relieve suffering and grow resiliency for those displaced by war, persecution, and disaster through the design, creation, and delivery of life-saving shelter products. By taking a human-centered design approach that centers the displaced populations it serves, EveryShelter co-creates better provisions for temporary shelters (such as Emergency Floor) which it freely shares to scale the impact for as many people as possible.

Emergency Floor, EveryShelter’s lightweight, insulated modular flooring solution

5. Mākhers Studio

Mākhers Studio is a social enterprise that exists to design, develop and operate localized supply chains around community development and affordable real estate for Black, Brown and Indigineous communities. By using green manufacturing techniques and employing refugee and immigrant tradeswomen/tradesmen, LGBTQ, women, veteran, and minority subcontractors, Mākhers Studio turns recycled shipping containers into innovative and affordable “Plug In Pods” to serve as affordable housing, entrepreneurial spaces, community centers, and even medical clinics – all while decreasing construction waste and energy use. 

A 20-foot Mākhers Studio “Plug-In-Pod”


ARED is a platform-as-a-service company that is working to democratize digital access in Africa, particularly in semi-urban, rural, and refugee communities. Its solar-powered kiosks provide a host of on and offline digital applications and services via WiFi to include off-grid communities in the digital revolution. The ARED kiosk is a self-contained mobile energy source that creates micro-entrepreneurship opportunities for women, people with disabilities, and refugees in particular though its franchise model. In 2015, ARED partnered with the Red Cross to implement solar kiosks in refugee camps throughout Rwanda.

ARED’s mobile solar kiosk

7. Akame

Akamae is an ethical fashion social enterprise that connects creatives with refugee artisans to co-create exclusive fashion capsule collections. As a co-creation fashion design house, Akame’s website is a platform for connection, marketplace access, and global reach for disconnected artisans living in refugee situations. The result is entrepreneurship, self-reliance and preservation of traditional skills. Although Akame works with artisans around the world, it’s based in the Jungle of northern Thailand where its team lives and works with refugee artisans displaced from ongoing conflict in Burma.

Akamae artisans collaborating on a new design

8. Earth Heir

Earth Heir is a social enterprise founded to serve traditional artisans in underserved communities through education, collaborative design partnerships, production & supply chain training, market access, financial support, and fair trade commercial practices. With Earth Heir’s support, artisans are able to be independent, gain new skills, and develop sustainable livelihoods that support economic development for their communities. Earth Heir has also partnered with the United Nations Refugee Agency via the MADE51 initiative to support displaced refugee artisans in Malaysia.

9. Refugee Trauma Initiative

The vision of Refugee Trauma Initiative is to offer non-clinical mental health support, tailored to the needs of displaced people and host communities, in order to foster community healing and to implant supportive measures that will stay with communities for as long as they are needed. By targeting well-being and belonging among the communities with whom it works, Refugee Trauma Initiative helps newly-arrived refugees settle, heal, and begin integrating in their new host countries.

The three pillars of the Refugee Trauma Initiative’s approach

10. Khushi Kantha

Khushi Kantha is a social enterprise that employs women (particularly mothers) from the Rohingya refugee community in India to create one-of-a-kind, multi-purpose baby blankets, which are hand-stitched from reclaimed and ethically-sourced cotton. Its model contributes to the circular economy by promoting a shift from “make-take-waste” to “reclaim-repurpose-reuse,” while at the same time creating paths to dignified employment and economic freedom for mothers fleeing persecution. 

Khushi Kantha baby blankets

11. USEC Community Organization

United Safe Environment Creators (USEC) is a nonprofit community based organization working to improve the standard of living and welfare of displaced people in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. Its Economic Empowerment Program provides access to livelihood opportunities, agricultural activities, and employability skills training, while its Girl Child Mentorship Program helps strengthen coping skills by providing girls with a safe space to discuss the challenges they face and connect with the right support.

Skills training session

12. Unleashed Potentials

Unleashed Potentials is a social enterprise working to support refugees and vulnerable youth in creating their own opportunities through retooling, self- discovery, skills development and social entrepreneurship training. Through coaching and mentoring, the students develop their ideas using the design thinking process, and can access various professional training bootcamps and acceleration programs to build and implement a sustainable business model. So far, Unleashed has led to the creation of 15 new social enterprises, 48 world-positive jobs, and impacted the lives of over 2,500 refugee students.

Unleashed students collaborating in a social innovation workshop

13. Boxtribute

Boxtribute is a social enterprise working to make the distribution of aid items (like clothes, hygiene products, and food) in refugee camps more efficient, fair, and dignified. The Boxtribute web-app enables aid workers to catalogue items into an online “free shop,” where beneficiaries can choose which items to “buy” using virtual currency. With its smartphone-scannable labels, aid workers have a searchable list of everything inside the warehouse, and can also see the population profile of their beneficiaries which makes it easier to adjust distributions to fit. Most importantly, the Boxtribute solution transforms the experience of receiving aid – instead of receiving a handout, with the free shop system people choose what they need for themselves.

A warehouse before and after implementing the Boxtribute system

14. TERN

TERN (The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network) is a UK-based social enterprise that enables refugees to thrive through the power of their own ideas. TERN supports refugee entrepreneurs in the creation and development of their businesses, providing services throughout three stages of entrepreneurial process: business exploration, business start-up and business growth. TERN has supported over 350 social entrepreneurs so far, and has set a goal of launching 2,000 refugee led businesses by 2025!

15. NaTakallam

NaTakallam is a Lebanon-based social enterprise that connects refugees with language-related income opportunities online. The company was founded in Lebanon in 2015, as millions of refugees arrived from Syria who were highly skilled professionals yet unable to work due to legal restrictions. NaTakallam leverages the freelance digital economy to provide income to refugees, displaced persons & their host community members by hiring them as online tutors, teachers, translators & cultural exchange partners, regardless of their location & status. 

Does your organization have an innovative social or environmental solution that you are trying to scale? Apply to SGRID for access to diverse sources of non-financial capacity building support – without requiring overhead or equity.