Over 700 million people worldwide have no access to clean water and over 900 million lack access to electricity. Refugees are often at the center of this, with many living in unelectrified camps without access to employment or connectivity. These conditions are what inspired business school graduate Alexandros Angelopoulos to help make a change.
A graduate of the MSc in Climate Change, Finance & Management from Imperial College Business School in London, Angelopoulos is also co-founder and operations lead for Elpis Solar. In this role, he is responsible for co-ordinating outreach efforts for clients, forming new partnerships and liaising with camp managers and state officials during the installation of solar-powered devices.
At the time of speaking with Angelopoulos, Elpis Solar has deployed 11 off-grid solar systems in six refugee camps across Greece and Rwanda, providing refugees with access to mobile phone charging, water filtration, educational content and employment opportunities, aiming to deliver impact where it is needed most: “Our team’s aim is to ensure refugees are connected, healthy and self-reliant. Placing environmental sustainability and the advancing of societal welfare at the forefront of our goals. We are re-envisioning the future of philanthropy and impact investing.”
SHARING STORIES OF IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES THROUGH THE LENS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Angelopoulos believes that being connected to other like-minded peers through his course at Imperial College Business School is what has enabled him to build on his skills and utilise them in his current role: “I bring experience to the team in energy finance, ESG investing, carbon accounting and green and sustainable entrepreneurship through my postgraduate MSc in Climate Change, Finance and Management. Serving as the president of Imperial’s Social Impact & Responsible Business Club enabled me to collaborate with other passionate classmates and get the chance to talk to industry professional building on my leadership skills.”
While Angelopoulos’ company has helped refugees in Greece and Rwanda, Andrew Leon Hanna is working with refugees in a different location; throughout the U.S. Currently undertaking an MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Hanna is co-founder and CEO of DreamxAmerica, which shares stories about immigrants and refugees through the lens of entrepreneurship, while providing support to immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs.
“Immigrants and refugees have an extremely high rate of entrepreneurship, but 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,” explains Hanna. “Refugees in particular face additional obstacles because of the trauma they have faced in fleeing war, persecution or natural disaster.” So far, they have worked with more than 20 immigrant, refugee and first-generation entrepreneurs from 14 nations to distribute $140,000 in zero-interest loans.
‘THE MOST EXTREME ENTREPRENEURS’
Hanna is motivated by his conviction that everyone deserves to be treated with equal dignity and provided with meaningful socioeconomic opportunity and also believes that business school graduates can learn from refugees: “Refugee entrepreneurs 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.”
The view that business graduates can learn just as much from the refugees they helping is a belief shared by Tim Carter, an MBA graduate from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. After travelling to Africa with Engineers Without Borders during his undergraduate studies, he says, “I fell in love both with the people and the opportunity to use my education and background to make a positive difference in the world. Through it all, I am sure I learned much more from the refugees I served than they ever learned from me.”
Before pursuing his MBA, Carter spent seven years in East Africa working with Samaritan’s Purse to provide humanitarian relief for refugees and the communities hosting them. His first three years were spent in Kenya before transferring to South Sudan where he held a number of roles supporting refugees and internally-displaced persons. The programmes he worked with helped provide clean water, food and treatment for malnourished children as well as rainwater harvesting systems, well rehabilitation, irrigation and emergency water trucking.
GIVING BACK TO ONE’S COMMUNITY
In his current role as an associate at McKinsey & Company, Carter is still able to contribute to social impact: “Our approach to social responsibility includes empowering our people to give back to their communities, operating our firm in ways that are socially responsible and environmentally sustainable, and working with our clients to intentionally address societal challenges. I have had the opportunity to contribute to social impact by helping support small businesses in navigating the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Carter believes that his MBA has been essential in preparing him for his current role, both from knowledge gained through core business coursework and the practical experience. His Multidisciplinary Action Project at Michigan Ross provided real-world consulting experience in which he worked with the Peruvian government to develop a business model for increasing the income of Amazonian hunters while improving conservation efforts.
“These experiences, among others, helped me gain core business consulting experience in building business plans, developing marketing strategies, streamlining operations and more,” he notes.
THE BENEFITS OF HIRING REFUGEES
Although Angelopoulos and Hanna both went on to start their own company, Carter making a change as an Associate within McKinsey & Company is proof that there are a number of ways in which business school graduates can use their knowledge and skills to help refugees.
Seye Onabolu, a graduate from Aston Business School in Birmingham, England, points out that supporting refugees can take a number of forms including “opting into a corporate volunteering programme, speaking to their employers about the benefits of hiring refugees or, better yet, hiring a refugee into their own start-up or growth company.”
As well as boasting an MSc in Accounting and Finance from Aston Business School, Onabolu has also completed an MBA. Throughout his studies, he developed a wide variety of skills useful in the different stages of developing his own company, Sona Circle Recruitment, a non-profit social enterprise based in the UK which supports refugees into employment.
‘EVERYONE DESERVES TO BE TREATED WITH EQUAL DIGNITY’
Sona Circle Recruitment was set up in response to the 2015 Refugee Crisis and has been operating since 2017, working with refugees to facilitate their journey into paid employment. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, refugees are continuing to face even more difficulty: “COVID-19 has had a severe impact on the rate of refugee unemployment, which was already four times higher than the general unemployment rate in the UK,” explains Onabolu.
Alongside his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with equal dignity and provided with meaningful socioeconomic opportunity, Onabolu cites personal motivation behind his dedication to his work: “Having been born in Nigeria, I have experienced first-hand the need to leave a place called ‘home’ due to religious tensions, civil unrest and lack of economic opportunities.”
Personal motivations as a drive for supporting refugees is also important to Edem Isliamov, a Master’s graduate due to start his MBA at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Isliamov is a Crimean Tatar, a member of the indigenous people of Crimea. When Russia occupied Ukraine, he was forced to leave his homeland, leaving Crimea and relocating to Kyiv. He then joined the Ukrainian political struggle to help those in the same position as internal refugees: “I worked on the border with occupied territories in Ukraine, helping people that had lost their documentation whilst entering the Ukraine mainland from the occupied territories.”
BUSINESS SCHOOL SKILLS CAN BE APPLIED TO THE HUMANITARIAN SECTOR
Isliamov is a strong believer that addressing the refugee crisis is crucial for many countries around the world and that the key to supporting and making real change lies in developing leadership in all spheres: “Business school graduates can directly make an impact, changing the way millions of people live worldwide.”
The importance of knowledge and skills gained from studying at business school in supporting refugees through social impact is something that is recognised by Valérie Docher, an Executive Master in General Management graduate from emlyon business school in France:
“The training provided in business schools allows students to gather a large range of skills that can be applied for efficiency in the humanitarian sector. Project management finance and HR management are good assets to optimise the use of the funds to deliver as much as we can to vulnerable communities and refugees.”
She is currently the Director of Awards Management for Relief International, an International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO) working in 16 countries considered to have ‘fragile settings.’ This organisation provides primary health services, water, food and education to refugee settlements in various countries. They also provide support to host communities to facilitate refugee integration when possible.
‘B-SCHOOL GRADUATES HAVE THE OBLIGATION TO USE OUR EDUCATION TO IMPROVE THE MARGINALIZED’
By increasing the livelihood and creating economic opportunities for communities, businesses can help NGOs and other organisations in tackling the refugee crisis: “It is a helpful development for host communities and can have an impact on the integration of refugees,” explains Docher.
NGOs and INGOs, like Relief International, can benefit greatly from the involvement of businesses and business school graduates. In fact, Peter Wasserman, an MBA graduate from Berkeley Haas School of Business, doesn’t just think business school graduates can use their skills to help refugees; he claims they have a responsibility to: “Business school graduates have the opportunity and the obligation to use our education and privilege to work to improve the circumstances of marginalized communities.”
Wasserman is the co-founder of MarHub International which uses a chat-based platform to connect refugees with essential legal information and services, considering the access to legal information and representation to be a basic human right. The concept for MarHub was actually born from a case competition the founding team participated in at Berkeley Haas while pursuing their MBAs, highlighting the positive impact business education can have on combatting the refugee crisis.
For business school graduates and students who want to help in this area, Wasserman’s advice is to “be bold and humble. Remember that many others have considered (and struggled) to tackle this crisis, and you have a great opportunity to listen to, learn from and support those who have worked in this space.”
These business school students and alumni have come from all over the world, studied at different institutions and have had vastly different experiences in their lives. However, they are all united in a common goal – to help and support refugees. For these graduates, whether it’s through starting their own company or volunteering, the knowledge and skills they have gained or are still developing through business education has been vital in enabling them to reach a position where they can have maximum impact.
DON’T MISS: MEET THE BUSINESS SCHOOL REFUGEES