From Refugees To Entrepreneurs: How One Family Started Over

By Tatiana Sanchez
Mercury News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) An estimated 11 percent of all Syrian immigrants in the U.S. labor force are business owners — nearly four times the rate of U.S.-born business owners. The Rawas family is among that group. This is their story.

BERKELEY

Three years later, Mohammed Aref Rawas, Rawaa Kasedah and their four children are running a budding catering business that serves authentic Syrian food such as smoked basmati rice, falafel and fattoush salad.

They’ve hired their first employee. Their clients include big tech companies. And the days when starting over seemed impossible are far behind them.

They are among a large population of refugees who, after fleeing a homeland overrun by violence and political turmoil, started a business in the U.S., integrating quickly into the economy and life of a country that gave them a second chance.

The family’s entrepreneurial approach is common among immigrants, studies show.

An estimated 11 percent of all Syrian immigrants in the labor force are business owners — nearly four times the rate of U.S.-born business owners, according to a study by the New York-based Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress.

A significant part of that success has been the ability to master the English language, the report said.

Meanwhile, a 2016 study by the Institute that followed Bosnian, Burmese, Hmong and Somali refugees nationwide found that they too moved up the occupational ladder and started businesses after settling in the U.S.

Thirty one out of every 1,000 Bosnian refugees in the labor force are business owners, compared with 26 out of every 1,000 Burmese, 22 out of 1,000 Hmong and 15 out of every 1,000 Somalis, the study found.

“There’s a hunger for dignified work,” said Dr. Thane Kreiner, executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. Kreiner launched an accelerator program known as Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins, which helps businesses and organizations around the world run by refugees, migrants or victims of human trafficking. “There’s this element of launching businesses, but also of integrating with the new host community so the refugees become part of the community rather than the ‘other.'”

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