9 Awesome Companies Started by Refugees and Migrants

12th November 2019


Imagine you could tap into a network of brilliant minds from all over the world, bringing expertise you haven’t dreamed of and solutions you’d never imagined to the table. That perspective would be valuable, right? Imagine the potential! 

Now, what if all it took to bring that idea to life was a simple “hello” or “welcome” to a person who is newly arrived to your country? Perhaps that person doesn’t speak your language flawlessly, or arrived in an unconventional way, maybe as a person seeking safety in your home country. People are people—and that’s reason enough to welcome those who need to build a new life. But just in case you needed more of a reason, we’ll give you nine additional ones here. The founders of these companies all rebuilt their lives somewhere new at some point—and we’re oh-so-glad they did!

  1. Omar Munie Clothing

    Omar Munie was only nine years old when his family fled the civil war raging in Somalia for safety in the Netherlands. Despite his mother’s wishes that he become an accountant, Omar went to fashion school, launching his company shortly after his fellow students snapped up his very first run of handbags (good choice, Omar). Today, those handbags are some of the Netherland’s most popular, and the 34-year-old continues to help other refugees get a leg up through projects like The Diversity Embracelet, crafted from life vests refugees have worn in their journeys to Europe. Given his impeccable taste, we’re tempted to invite Omar to have a go at crafting a flavour of his very own. Omar Goodness, it’s Delicious! Certainly has a nice ring to it…


  2. Chatterbox

    Language barriers can divide us, but they can also unite us. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Mursal Hedayat was just three years old when she came to the UK with her mother—but it didn’t take her long to realise that people with refugee status struggled to find meaningful work. So, she co-founded Chatterbox, a language-learning app that employs people with refugee status as native-language teachers. The Chatterbox algorithm matches teachers with students who share similar professional interests, which helps students learn workplace-relevant vocabulary, and helps teachers connect with native-speaking professional peers. (We’re thinking about signing up just to learn how to say “more ice cream, please!” in as many different languages as possible!) 

  3. Peace by Chocolate

    Being professional pun-slingers ourselves, here at Ben & Jerry’s we’re partial to Peace by Chocolate’s tagline: “One Peace Won’t Hurt”—but we’re even bigger fans of the company’s unflagging resolve to rebuild their family chocolate factory in Nova Scotia after the original factory in Damascus was destroyed. Just eight months (less than a year!) after arriving in Canada, the Hadhad family opened Peace by Chocolate, continuing a 30-year tradition of chocolate-making. The Hadhad family now donates a portion of its profits to organisations supporting values of peace, community, and safety via the Peace on Earth society.

  4. EasyBrick

    One of the best things about welcoming people from different places into our communities is that they bring totally different skills and expertise with them. Take Amin Dabiri. When he had to leave Iran, he left many things behind—but he brought an Iranian decorating method known as “Batiss” with him. Amin then turned his knowledge into a patent for EasyBrick, a water- and mineral-based liquid that’s sprayed onto plaster to create a 3D brick or stonework wall. Now that’s the kind of wall we can get behind—and we did. Amin is a graduate of the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Academy, a programme we launched with our friends at The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN) to help people who arrived as refugees develop business ideas and launch entrepreneurial ventures in their new countries.

  5. WSM-Arts

    As a student of geology in Aleppo, Wessam Matouk often sketched the geometrical structures of minerals, so when he sought refuge in Amsterdam, he became fascinated by the similarly geometric work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher. Today, the self-taught artist (and Ice Academy grad!) creates hand-drawn pen-on-paper artworks that often take the form of optical illusions, a nod to Escher’s favorite subject—but with the spin of a geologist. 

  6. WhatsApp

    Jan Koum’s story is every entrepreneur’s dream: he built a messaging app so successful that Facebook snapped it up for $19 billion dollars. And while you probably have WhatsApp on your phone right now, you might not have known that its founder immigrated to the U.S. from Kiev, Ukraine with his mother to escape the political unrest and anti-Semitic sentiment they witnessed there. In California, Jan taught himself computer networking, and in 2009, took out a patent for the messaging app that became one of the first to offer free international messaging. At Ben & Jerry’s, we support anything that makes communicating across international boundaries easier; how else would we know what our colleagues around the world were up to?!

  7. Chobani

    Hamdi Ulukaya immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey in 1994 to study English—and we love his “humanity-first” approach to hiring people who arrived as refugees. Hamdi has a policy of employing as many refugees as he can in his U.S. yogurt-making plants, and founded his own charity, Tent Partnership for Refugees, a charity that is building a coalition with other companies to hire and support people with refugee status.

  8. Eat Offbeat

    There’s no better way to get a cultural awakening than by eating different foods. But when Manal Kahi arrived in New York, she didn’t feel like the beige stuff sold in plastic tubs represented the creamy, delicious hummus she knew from her native Lebanon at all. So she and her brother, Wissam, started making their grandmother’s recipe and selling it, to rave reviews. And that prompted the idea of Eat Offbeat, a New York-based catering company staffed by chefs who arrived in the U.S. as refugees. Eat Offbeat chefs tap into their global experiences to craft delicious dishes inspired by their own histories and cultural traditions. 

  9. Makers Unite

    It’s no secret that we support the efforts of forcibly displaced people trying to rebuild their lives. And we also believe that the talents of newcomers are often underestimated. So we collaborated with Makers Unite to launch a collection of sweatshirts, blankets, t-shirts, and ice-cream bowls created by a team of artists and makers who arrived in Germany as refugees. The “Meet Me Halfway” collection was designed to do just that: spark conversation, encourage collaboration, and empower people from all locations and backgrounds to meet in the middle to find common ground.

  10. Here’s to the Dreamers, the Do-ers, and the Makers!

    It’s pretty clear to us that innovation and creativity aren’t constrained by borders, skin color, language, religion, or refugee status. People are people, and a good idea is a good idea, no matter where you’re from, or how you ended up where you are now. So, we’ll raise a cone and tip our hats to these entrepreneurs, and to anyone with a brilliant idea and the determination to make it a reality. Three cheers for the dreamers, the do-ers, and the makers—we salute you, whoever you are, and wherever you’re from!