Empowering Syrian Refugees Through Entrepreneurship

Ozge Aksaray • 30 August 2019

      Turkey has been demonstrating its commitments to the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development on various occasions.  It was among the first 22 countries to submit a Voluntary National Review (VNR) at the 2016 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) and has now volunteered once more to present its VNR at the 2019 HLPF [1]. As demonstrated in its second VNR report, Turkey has achieved significant progress in reducing poverty, improving access to basic services, reducing inequalities and supporting the vulnerable groups. In addition, the country has re-confirmed its eagerness to help people in need by implementing specific policies for Syrian refugees in line with the global commitment of “Leaving No One Behind”.

      Since the beginning of the Syrian humanitarian crisis in 2011, Turkey has hosted the largest number of Syrian refugees, prompted by its long-standing culture of compassion and solidarity.  Over 37 billion USD has been allocated from the state budget for the well-being of this displaced population and more than 3.6 million of them have received the  “temporary protection status” [2].

     To meet the most urgent needs for accommodation, nutrition and healthcare, Temporary Accommodation Centres (TACs) and Migrant Health Centres (MHCs) were established, with the Food Card Project being launched for Syrians living in TACs.   Additional cash assistance was provided to cover other basic needs within the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) Programme and KIZILAYKART Project. Most importantly, Syrian children were able to go back to school and learn Turkish language in Temporary Education Centers (TECs). Today, Syrians can benefit from the available public services equally with the Turkish citizens, especially when it comes to education, healthcare and other primary needs. Moreover, as of 2016, Syrians with temporary protection status have been granted the right to participate in the labor market and benefit from vocational trainings [3].

       Yet, despite all positive trends, many Syrian refugees still find themselves in a vulnerable position. The protracted conflict has forced many of them to build a new life abroad in an unfamiliar, fast-growing and competitive world. While Turkey has already taken some measures for their socio-economic inclusion, refugees are still facing challenges, especially with regards to their economic opportunities and livelihoods. First of all, many Syrians are working at low-paid jobs and in disadvantaged working conditions [4]. Secondly, although many Syrian refugees are skillful and educated, they struggle to find jobs that match their specific skillset and background [5]. Finally, many refugees are not able to start their own business due to the difficulties they encounter in accessing financial and social capital [6].

        In this regard, supporting refugees' entrepreneurship and self-employment is widely perceived as a promising solution for the improvement of their socio-economic condition while fostering their integration into the host society [7]. In order to create more favorable conditions for entrepreneurship and self-employment, several considerations should be taken into account. First of all, Syrian refugees in Turkey should be provided with the necessary information about the current political, legal and regulatory environment in Turkey to be able to claim and make use of their rights. In addition to this, it would be essential to facilitate their access to financial resources either in the forms of grants or patience/venture capital from social investors. Tapping into community microfinance schemes could also be a viable option. Finally, enhancing refugees’ entrepreneurial capacity through trainings and market intelligence could help unlocking and pursuing new business opportunities.     

       The IMECE Project, led by HABITAT Association and supported by the UNHCR, is one of the promising endeavors that aims to economically empower Syrian refugees in Turkey and thereby reduce their reliance on aid by supporting them in entrepreneurship and self-employment as well as labor force participation [8]. This initiative provides entrepreneurship training and skills development services, as well as social integration and networking opportunities for refugees. Furthermore, the project offers start-up grants for the best 25 business ideas proposed by the applicants. To date, more than 5,000 people have benefited from these trainings, supported through 100+ grants offered and 80 new businesses launched [9].

        Mohammad Kawsara is a young Syrian and one of the beneficiaries of the IMECE Project. When he first came to Turkey, he faced some difficulties in the Turkish job market as a software developer, despite the increasing demand for highly skilled IT specialists. It was the existing labor mismatch between the high-skilled engineers and low-paid jobs that they had to undertake that provoked Mohammad to question these inefficiencies and unutilized capacities. Thus, with the support from the IMECE Initiative, he has developed an internet-based job platform called Ejad Job that connects Turkish companies and organizations with Syrians and other refugees, especially skilled developers who can work in Arabic, Turkish and English interfaces [10].

“I have increased my knowledge of business at the IMECE entrepreneurship training sessions. After the training, I had adjusted my path and widened my vision. What was really great is the financial grant. I needed this small amount of money in order to register and start my business”, says Mohammad.

      As it can be seen from the above, Turkey has already done a lot in order to help Syrian refugees. However, there is still much to be accomplished and more collaboration and coordination is required from all stakeholders development agencies, civil society, philanthropy, private sector and others. According to the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019, the number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict exceeded 70 million in 2018 – reaching the highest level seen in almost 70 years. Refugees are listed among the most vulnerable and insecure groups, yet there are multiple ways to empower them into full-fledged members of a society, equally contributing to more peaceful and sustainable communities.


[1] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/23862Turkey_VNR_110719.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] Temporary Protection Regulation (Council of Ministers Decision No: 2014/6883) dated 13/10/2014 was published in the framework of Article 91 of Law No. 6458 on Foreigners and International Protection. available at: http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2016/04/20160426-1.htm

[4] UN Women and SGDD-ASAM (2018), Needs Assessment of Syrian Women and Girls Under Temporary Protection Status in Turkey: 44

[5] Overseas Development Institute (ODI), The lives and livelihoods of Syrian refugees: A study of refugee perspectives and their institutional environment in Turkey and Jordan, February 2017, available at: https://www.refworld.otrg/docid/58bd75394.htlm [accesses 1 August 2019]

[6] TEPAV and EBRD (2018), Syrian Entrepreneurship and Refugee Start-ups in Turkey: Leveraging the Turkish Experience: 16

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/11/the-potential-of-refugee-entrepreneurs-is-huge-but-they-need-our-help

[8] UNCTAD, IOM and UNHCR (2018), Policy Guide on Entrepreneurship for Migrants and Refugees

[9] https://habitatassociation.org/projects/imece/

[10] UNCTAD, IOM and UNHCR (2018), Policy Guide on Entrepreneurship for Migrants and Refugees

Photo Credit: UNHCR


The views expressed in the blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the SDG Philanthropy Platform. The SDG Philanthropy Platform is a global initiative that connects philanthropy with knowledge and networks that can deepen collaboration, leverage resources and sustain impact, driving SDG delivery within national development planning. It is led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), and supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Ford Foundation, Oak Foundation, Brach Family Charitable Foundation, and many others.