The rise of the refugee startup | The Economist
This is the man with the flyest wheels in town, the man people call when they're in need. He's in the business of improving people's lives. He pimps their ride. Zaatari in Jordan, the world's fastest-growing refugee camp, home to 80,000 people. The United Nations spends around 300,000 pounds a day to run the camp. Every resident gets strict rations: four pieces of bread daily and a food allowance worth about 20 pounds a month. Few of the camp's residents cam leave Zaatari. The only jobs available are the official ones running the camp or working with onsite NGOs. But the authorities are turning a blind eye to camp entrepreneurs. Zaatari has 3,000 informal shops and businesses. It's proof that markets can form in the most extreme environments. Kasim is from Daraa in Syria. He came to Zaatari five years ago and opened a bike shop. Most of the bicycles at Zaatari were donated by the Dutch. They're popular but functional, until Kasim gets his hands on them. He pimps out people's rides. His customize service comes with bells and whistles. Customization is key to his business strategy and his success. It's a model that would impress any management consultant. It's the absence of regulations that's making businesses like Kasim's thrive. Most refugee camps create a handout culture. But if refugees are confined in places like Zaatari for many years, they should be allowed to work. It not only empowers them, but it better prepares them for life when they eventually return home. The UN estimates that the businesses inside Zatari generate $13 million a month. Some Zaatari businesses are so successful their wares are exported outside the confines of the camp. Hasan employs seven people in his sweet shop. As an entrepreneur, Hasan recognizes the value of economies of scale. He makes big batches of baked sweets to keep costs down. Hasan's employees then transport the trays of sweets to his four outlets dotted across Zaatari. The taste of home is so popular he's opening a fifth outlet soon. The Zaatari refugee camp was meant to be a temporary site. But as the war in Syria continues just 20 kilometers away, it looks like the camp will continue into its seventh year. Worldwide, the number of displaced people is the highest ever recorded. 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes. More governments should harness these refugees' untapped talents and encourage their entrepreneurial spirit.