By Başak Demirdağ
‘Tech for Refugees’ providing know-how and network for businesses
There she was on the screen, smiling and full of confidence, telling everyone her success story as an entrepreneur in the information and communications technologies (ICT) sector in Turkey. While delivering a keynote speech at an EBRD webinar, Raneem Safi captivated the audience with her positive energy and enthusiasm. Even viewed remotely, her great hope for the future was palpable.
Raneem is a Syrian start-up owner. She was educated as a software engineer and worked for two and a half years as an ICT professional. When the war started in Syria, she left the country for Saudi Arabia, where she had no legal status and therefore no right to work. In 2014, she decided to regain control of her life and came to Turkey, where soon after she received temporary protected status.
Today, Raneem is running her own company, IM-SAF, now a licensed local partner of one of the biggest United States-based ICT corporations.
EBRD’s Refugee Response in Turkey
There are more than four million refugees in Turkey. Entrepreneurship can be, along with shelter, food and health, a catalyst for integration and economic development. It helps boost resilience of refugee communities and their host countries, create employment opportunities, generate income and improve access to essential services for refugees.
There are already more than 15,000 Syrian-led enterprises in Turkey. Since 2016, the EBRD has been supporting this segment with its Refugee Response work. Through various training sessions, advisory services, and mentoring and institutional capacity building projects, the Bank has reached 3,300 of these small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) so far.
Raneem is one of the beneficiaries of the EBRD’s ‘Tech for Refugees’ SME accelerator programme. Thanks to this programme, her company IM-SAF received training, mentorship and the opportunity to be introduced to the ICT business network in Turkey.
A challenging but promising journey
Being a refugee, and being a woman, Raneem’s journey was certainly full of challenges. “I made many job applications and did not receive a single reply,” she says. “Then I found a job in an NGO where I could use my skills and knowledge and develop professionally.” Yet again, things did not go as she had hoped. In 2019, her work permit in Turkey was not renewed.
“The worst moments in life could be the perfect moments to take risks, to move forward with one’s dreams,” she says. The lack of a work permit became a trigger for Raneem, as this is when she decided to establish IM-SAF.
Very early on, she managed to gain her first client, but at that same moment she also realised that she had no idea how to run a business, and nor did she have any employees.
The Tech for Refugees programme came into the picture just at the right time.
Tech for Refugees Programme
“Many of the refugee-led enterprises in Turkey have problems reaching out to the right contacts in whatever field they need support and in developing their own business networks. The language barrier, insufficient knowledge about local legal matters and the business environment are all an impediment to their success in the local market,” explains the EBRD’s implementation partner for the programme, Impact Hub.
This is precisely what Tech for Refugees is about. In addition to training, the companies are also matched with mentors from the biggest ICT companies operating in Turkey, such as Oracle, Amazon, Insider or Microsoft, so that they can create business potential together.
A great step for work
Raneem’s IM-SAF was matched with a big US ICT company named Dimagi that had no local contacts in Turkey. Now IM-SAF is their official partner and the focal point of the network too.
“When you find all doors closed, don’t give up: create your own door and open it,” says Raneem, looking into the future with hope once more.