Over a year ago, the Syrian Canadian Foundation (SCF) partnered with Jumpstart Refugee Talent to launch HER Startup, a first-of-its-kind refugee women entrepreneurship program to carve pathways for refugee women with an entrepreneurial drive. Starting from signing on the primary funder, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the program has come a long way. As opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach, the program has advocated for a customized service for refugee women to address their unique socio-economic challenges and barriers.
Why do refugees require customized services? Imagine a refugee claimant trying to start a business with no credit history, no permanent address, and no network. How will they get a bank loan? How will they bootstrap?
How the program works
The program offers business training, communications skill-building, and mentorship to support refugee women navigate the Canadian workplace and entrepreneurship environment. All participants in the program receive employment coaching, networking, and connections to employment opportunities. After months of training, those with business ideas participate in a pitch event with a panel of esteemed judges. The winning team moves into a one-year incubation phase where they receive access to industry experts, business consultants, and guaranteed seed funding from generous supporters such as Islamic Relief Canada, Shopify, and hundreds of crowdfunding donors.
One of the key features of this program and its success during the first year has been offering our participants vital wrap-around services such as childcare services and transportation tickets so that refugee women can attend the training. One woman came to class with a 6-week old newborn in tow, taking public transportation from Brampton to downtown Toronto twice a week. That’s the kind of client dedication that inspired us to go above and beyond to make sure these women received top-of-the-line training and customized support.
This year’s cohort consisted of women with various educational and professional backgrounds, including an eye surgeon, architect, business manager, teacher, and graphic designer. The women were diverse, arriving in Canada from Ethiopia, Sudan, Liberia, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Columbia, Afghanistan, and Syria.