As Europe continues to grapple with the problem of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, an organisation founded by an Indian is helping a small town in Germany in rehabilitating these people.
As Europe continues to grapple with the problem of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, an organisation founded by an Indian is helping a small town in Germany in rehabilitating these people. R Ventures Foundation, registered in Amsterdam, is helping the university town of Heidelberg in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg in rehabilitating the Syrian refugees by setting up an incubator to impart skills so that these people can become entrepreneurs and job creators.
Founded in 2017 by Shantanu Prakash, an IIM Ahmedabad graduate and a member of the Global Futures Council on Migration at the World Economic Forum (WEF), the organisation is focused on the intersection of refugees and entrepreneurship with the belief that refugees and displaced persons can help catalyse a new era of job creation and integration.
So what kind of skills are being imparted to these refugees?
“Currently, we are looking at more of the hi-tech area, innovation technology area, but it also depends on who it applies to,” Prakash, who was on a visit here, told IANS in an interview.
“Our idea is to really look at people who have a desire to become entrepreneurs, who are educated,” he said.
He said that a lot of these people are already well-educated, but being refugees, they have to start from zero.
In this connection, he drew a parallel with the situation during the 1947 Partition when many people migrating from newly-created Pakistan to India were highly educated but had to restart their life from scratch.
“Now, it would be a pity if a highly qualified engineer has to take up a job of a janitor or something,” Prakash said.
“So, the idea is that we provide them a supportive environment. We give them the skills, how to create a business in a different country.”
Pointing out that that there is the issue of cultural sensitivity and the rules of business being different, Prakash said R Ventures Foundation helps the refugees to create a business pitch.
“We have got a full curriculum for it, what to teach step by step, teaching them a whole variety of skills, how to build up a business,” he stated.
“Our idea is that the graduates of this programme will set up businesses in Heidelberg or elsewhere.”
Prakash said that once these entrepreneurs become successful, people will write about them and then Germans and people of the rest of the world will know that the refugees are adding value to the society.
So how did the whole idea of imparting skills while rehabilitating refugees come about?”
“There was no compelling reason for us,” Prakash said on a philosophical note. “Maybe it was a calling. Maybe it was something that we were meant to do.”
Prakash said that through his involvement with the WEF, he got to understand the contentious issues regarding refugees.
“When I got deeper into it, I got more fascinated about it,” he explained. “And I thought that people are referring to this as a crisis rather than opportunity.”
Though a lot of foundations are working for refugees, Prakash said that what is different about R Ventures is that it is trying to address the issue from a different angle.
“Our dimension is: Can some of them become job creators? For us, that is good enough,” he stated
So, how did a small German town and this organisation founded by an Indian come together?
Heidelberg City Manager Nicole Huber said that the idea took shape when she came in touch with R Ventures co-founder Archish Mittal sometime in 2017.
She said that the state government of Baden-Württemberg has made Heidelberg the registration hub for refugees in the whole of south Germany. There are around 1,000 Syrian refugees in the town with a population of a little over 160,000 while many have left for different places within Germany.
So, have there been law and order problems in Germany with the influx of such a huge number of refugees?
“We don’t see any more crime… than with an average German population,” Huber said.