Name: Andrew Leon Hanna
Birthplace: Jacksonville, Florida
Place of residence: Jacksonville, Florida / Stanford, California
Fun fact about yourself: Jacksonville, my hometown, is on the same exact latitude line as Cairo, the capital of my parents’ native country. Only sort of fun, and only sort of about myself…
Undergraduate and Business School programs: M.B.A., Stanford Graduate School of Business (‘22); J.D., Harvard Law School (‘19); A.B., Duke University (‘14)
Can you tell us about your role and what it entails? I co-founded and lead DreamxAmerica, which joins storytelling and economic impact to highlight and support immigrant, refugee, and first-generation entrepreneurs across America. The book I’m writing, 25 Million Sparks, is about refugee entrepreneurs around the world, with a particular focus on three Syrian entrepreneurs in the Zaatari camp in Jordan.
How does the company you work for help refugees? DreamxAmerica aims to create greater mutual understanding by sharing dignity-filled stories about immigrants and refugees through the lens of entrepreneurship, while providing tangible support to immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs. On the storytelling side, the DreamxAmerica documentary short film is now streaming on PBS in collaboration with PBS Chicago/WTTW. On the impact side, we have partnered with Kiva U.S. on the DxA-Kiva Special Initiative to connect small businesses across the country with zero-interest loans. Immigrants and refugees have an extremely high rate of entrepreneurship, but they face major barriers when it comes to awareness of and access to capital sources, trust in financial institutions, language, and technology – even more so during the pandemic. Refugees in particular face additional obstacles because of the trauma they have faced in fleeing war, persecution, or natural disaster. So far, our partnership has worked with more than 20 immigrant, refugee, and first-generation entrepreneurs from 14 nations to distribute about $140,000 in zero-interest loans.
What is your motivation behind working in this role? Ultimately, my greatest motivation is the belief – engrained in me by my family, my experiences, and my Christian faith – that everyone deserves to be treated and portrayed with equal dignity, and to be provided with meaningful socioeconomic opportunity. This has led me to focus on groups of people that are often excluded or mistreated, like unemployed youth, prisoners, and veterans with mental health challenges. My excitement about working with migrant communities comes in part from my family’s story: my parents immigrated from Egypt to the U.S. by way of England in the 1980s, and they are a deep source of inspiration in my life.
What skills have you utilised from the program into your career in this role? I just finished my first year at Stanford GSB, and it has been helpful in a lot of ways. One has been a push to think more carefully about how to identify and charter strategic partnerships to make a broader impact. Thoughtfully mapping out the value chain and where your team’s work fits is very useful in efforts with social impact goals; there are so many people out there working to make a difference, so it’s often wisest to focus your efforts on the most pressing unsolved needs that you are uniquely able to address.
Do you believe more B-school graduates need to utilise their knowledge and skills to help refugees? First, it’s worth reframing the question and noting that business school graduates can learn quite a bit from refugees. Refugee entrepreneurs, for example, are the most extreme entrepreneurs – having overcome unimaginable adversity and disadvantages to launch businesses that serve their adoptive homes, whether in cities or refugee camps. They are truly among the bravest, most inspiring, and most community-oriented entrepreneurs. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to the Tennessee Office for Refugees: “To be called a refugee is the opposite of an insult; it is a badge of strength, courage, and victory.” Second, I believe we all have a moral imperative to uplift those who don’t have the same types of opportunities we have. It’s worth remembering that any of us could have been forced from our homes due to war, persecution, or natural disaster – living an ordinary life one day, and having everything uprooted due to circumstances out of our control the next.
How can businesses help NGOs and others in tackling this crisis? It’s often best to start locally. First, there are millions of immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs across the country; depending on the type of activity a business engages in, it can help by providing capital in the form of grants, accessible loans, or investments, or by offering advising and consulting services, or by patronizing refugee-led businesses. Second, many leading companies have made commitments to hire refugees, providing them job opportunities and reaping the benefits of a committed, resilient, and talented group of workers. Third, businesses should be active in supporting their local communities’ refugee support and immigrant welcoming organizations, offering to lend a hand or funding as these organizations help refugees as they get settled, establish housing, find work, and so on.
What advice would you give other graduates who want to help in this area, whether it be through initiatives or full-time job roles? Do it! In reflecting on my career so far, by far the most meaningful moments – the times I look back on with joy – have been when I have helped support those who are in difficult situations in life. Working with refugee communities is an honor, and a bit of investment of your time can go so far in transforming their lives and consequently the lives of communities across the country and world. Refugees have uplifted communities all around the world, from helping revitalize Rust Belt towns after factory closures to jumpstarting European cities with their entrepreneurial efforts.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? I hope to continue using a combination of law, social entrepreneurship, and writing to ensure people – especially those who are most vulnerable – are supported and uplifted!