Political refugees flee the worst places on earth to launch businesses in America.
Somali Bantu Women's Cooperative
Members of the Somali Bantu Women's Cooperative at work in San Diego. The co-op markets handicrafts to sympathetic consumers.
Somali Bantu Women's Cooperative
Fled from Somalia
Three years ago Hajia Kangame (see previous frame) and her family were admitted to the U.S. as political refugees. They settled in San Diego, where Kangame launched the Somali Bantu Women's Cooperative, a startup handicraft business that employs 16 women. Kangame's goals right now are modest, but very American. "If we succeed," she says, "maybe my children can go to college, and my family can be happy."

The U.S. admitted nearly 53,000 political refugees in 2005. Many have overcome linguistic, cultural and financial obstacles to start their own businesses. Like some of the other refugee entrepreneurs pictured here, Kangame received help from the San Diego office of the International Rescue Committee (theirc.org), a charity based in New York City that helps refugees and victims of armed conflict around the world. The IRC helped Kangame create a Web site (bantubeads.com), catalog and marketing plan targeting socially conscious consumers. It also arranged several microgrants from Trickle Up (trickleup.org), another New York-based nonprofit that provides seed capital and training to help poverty-stricken individuals launch businesses in California and ten other states.

Since 2004 the IRC has provided financing and business counseling to 43 refugee startups in San Diego. Eighty percent of those entrepreneurs are still in business.
--Eilene Zimmerman

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