When we talk about empowering Iraqis and Syrians who were displaced by war, we talk a lot about agency; the ability to make free choices for ourselves.
Most of the people we serve have had their agency stripped away by ISIS and war. Sometimes even humanitarian communities intending to help unknowingly do so. The people have lost the ability to choose where they live, what to wear, what work to do—and in the case of so many women, they’ve even lost the agency to their body.
Agency is an essential ingredient to helping refugees. It always has been.
By giving displaced families the joy and the responsibility of making their own choices and owning their own business, we are supporting their independence, rather than fostering dependence. In this, we restore agency.
When we sat down with Harfta (left) to discuss what kind of business she might want to run, she expressed an interest in baking sweets to sell in some of the local shops in her refugee camp.
We asked her to come up with lists of equipment and ingredients she would need to make her kulicha—rolled cookies stuffed with dates and a hint of anise.
We talked through how she would price her cookies, to make sure she could replace her ingredients and earn a profit.
We talked through her challenges—she would need to bake in a small electric oven at night when there was electricity, to save on the propane her family uses to cook.
Harfta was ready for us. She knew exactly what she needed.
When we took Harfta shopping she chose each ingredient that went into her recipe, based on price and freshness. For example, she bought whole walnuts instead of pre-shelled because the price was better.
When we took Harfta to buy the small oven, our local staff negotiated a better price for her than she could do herself, which allowed her grant dollars to stretch farther.
For each small business, we provide the financial resources once each new business owner has determined their plan. Our local staff lend their support to refugee families, leveraging their relationships to negotiate better prices. We make follow-up visits to see how each new business owner is doing, working through new challenges as they come up.
It was Harfta, not us who created the plan and gathered her lists of needs for her baking business. She chose every item that went into creating her business. She negotiated with shops in the refugee camp to carry her baked goods. And she was often up rolling out dough and baking in the middle of the night when electricity was stable.
When we call grant recipients business owners, it’s because they are. We fund and support their start-up, but they choose the business. Their intelligence, integrity, energy and grit creates and builds the business.
We are in the agency restoration business.
Help refugees reclaim their agency.