Social Innovation Aims to Aid Refugees

To assist with the recent influx of refugees in Europe, during the Fall 2016 semester a team of four BYU students worked with the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation (RFBF) to create a business plan for an interfaith business incubator in Manchester, England. The project aims to help refugees integrate into English society and become more self-reliant in their new homes.

“The incubator is a place where young people from different faiths can come together and learn not just business skills but also how faith can be a strong motivation for doing well,” says RFBF president Brian Grim.

The initiative is one of many involving the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance’s Social Innovation Projects, an on-campus internship program that allows students to work with social innovation organizations. Most of the team members who worked with the RFBF on this project are not majoring in business-related fields and found it to be a great learning opportunity.

Ellen Brotherson, a senior studying sociology, joined the refugee incubator project because she liked the idea of working with nonprofit organizations and refugees.

Brotherson found similar business incubators in the Salt Lake City area as well as in Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. She interviewed some of the groups to find out which business incubator format would work best. Brotherson also conducted market research on the demographics of Manchester and on the different religions and refugee groups there.

“We did a lot of research to find other business incubators that had started to help refugees so we could see what they were able to do, if they were successful, what groups they focused on, and what services they offered,” Brotherson says.

Fred (Wen Jie) Tan, a junior studying political science, joined the team because he is passionate about politics and immigration issues. He looked at strategic partnerships, worked on product development, and studied models of business incubators and what type of partners might be interested in collaborating on the project.

“I believe most of the conflict that is occurring is happening because a religious group is isolated or becomes so detached from society that they don’t know they care about society,” Tan says. “The business incubator is a method to integrate these groups into society and to get both of them to click together.”

As the team members continued researching and developing their business plan, they discovered that the business incubator on its own was not sustainable and required a lot of extra funds. That’s when they decided the best option was to have a food truck business attached to the incubator.

“The food truck will be staffed by a refugee and a local person,” Grim says. “That will generate revenue that would help support the local person and the refugee as well as form a business nucleus for the project.”

As the project progressed, the team members learned about what it takes to make an impact.

“I learned that impact doesn’t usually happen instantaneously; it usually happens over time,” Tan says. “Making a change happens slowly. If you believe in something, keep working at it even if people tell you you’re crazy, because there are enough evidences of success when you stick to a vision.”

Religious Freedom and Business Foundation Social Innovation Project team

Alex Oldroyd, Ellen Brotherson, and Fred (Wen Jie) Tan were on a Ballard Center Social Innovation Projects team that helped the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation create a business incubator.