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A woman shopping at refugee creator night
Nadav Havakook/ Courtesy WeWork
Conscious consuming.
GOOD DEAL

For World Refugee Week, support refugees by shopping at their businesses

By Lila MacLellan

Depending where you live in the world, your options for supporting refugees during world refugee week (and any time) vary considerably.

You might phone your political representative and argue for more compassionate refugee resettlement policies, or volunteer with organizations that connect refugees with jobs, training, education, and health care. (They’ll also happily take your donations.) Or you could hire refugees as employees.

But since researchers have demonstrated that refugees are “disproportionately entrepreneurial,” there’s also usually an opportunity to shop at refugee-run businesses. That’s a great way to stimulate economic activity and jobs, while picking up, perhaps, a vintage camo jacket with African wax fabric accents.

WeWork, the fast-growing co-working company, is hosting Refugee Creator Marketplace events in Chicago, London, and Mexico City, over the next few days to celebrate World Refugee Week.

Chicago’s event begins tonight at WeWork Kinzie, and will feature artisans such as Scents of Syria, whose ghar soaps, crafted from laurel and olive oil, are sold in reusable pouches embroidered with Arabic words and Arabesque motifs.

London’s marketplace, co-produced with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, is scheduled for Thursday, June 21, at WeWork Waterhouse Square. Watch for designs from Made51, whose accessories and homewares put a contemporary spin on a traditional designs, and are made by refugees from countries including Afghanistan, Burundi, and Mali. As with all of these events, there will be traditional foods, some made by refugee chefs, available for purchase or sampling.

And on June 22, WeWork Torre Reforma Latino in Mexico City will invite locals to shop for refugee-made goods from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, Congo, Perú, and Venezuela. 

Such pop-up market nights have already been held in Denver and New York, but if you missed them WeWork can direct you to any vendors selling online. NaTakallam (“We speak” in Arabic), which appeared at the New York event, for instance, is an online-only venture and a brilliant idea: it connects refugee speakers of Arabic, mainly from Syria and Iraq, with people who want to study the language in virtual one-to-one lessons.

All the marketplaces are part of WeWork’s Refugee Initiative, which began last year, when the company pledged to hire 1,500 refugees over five years. Now that project (which also involves language and coding classes) is expanding to Brazil and Colombia, places that have seen an influx of refugees from Venezuela, where the economy is slowly collapsing.

Purchasing something from a businesses that supports refugees or sells refugee-made goods sends benefits both ways. For the maker, it can help a person who has left their country behind to find a renewed sense of direction, using an old or newly acquired talent. And for the buyer it can be an introduction to an unfamiliar food or craft, offering welcome diversity in places where clothes and restaurants are mired in sameness.

Like few other shopping experiences, it’s truly a win-win.