Why did you come up with this innovation?
"In 2015, some 32,000 asylum seekers arrived in Finland over a short period of time. The Finnish TV personalities Riku Rantala and Tunna Milonoff have traveled widely around the world and wanted to use their knowledge to activate different groups to support the employment and entrepreneurship of asylum seekers. In a matter of just a few weeks, 250 different members signed up to participate. These included companies that wanted to find work force, but also authorities such as the Finnish Immigration Service Migri and Finland's Ministry of the Interior. Now we are a strong volunteer network of over 500 members where everywhere works towards the common goal.
Refugees have a right to start working in Finland three months after their arrival date. Without a passport the waiting time is six months. Because the amount of newcomers was so high in 2015, the processing system became overloaded and the authorities found themselves in a tricky situation. Refugees have plenty of skills in different fields. They bring along their work experience, education, know-how and motivation. We wanted to harness their skills and social capital to the benefit of society."
What is the significance of this innovation?
"In three years, we have found nearly 600 jobs for asylum seekers. The rate of employment has accelerated in 2018 especially due to a labour shortage.
No authority in Finland is responsible for the employment or social integration of asylum seekers. The asylum process can take up to three years, and the social integration process after this can take another three years. That can add up to six years, an unbelievable amount of lost time. It is a long timeframe as many newcomers are under 30 years old. This is the problem that our innovation is solving.
We have managed to portray asylum seekers in a light where they are a labour resource instead of a burden. We have speeded up their integration process by offering different types of training, for instance to study the local work culture, entrepreneurship, language, and skills of varied fields.
We offer mentoring and entrepreneurship programmes. Due to many good experiences, many companies seem interested in hiring asylum seekers.
We make rounds at the reception centres to map out the skills, education and support needs of asylum seekers. Together with Futurice, we devised the service Match Made In Startup Refugees where we have already created more than 3,000 skill profiles. This is the pool we go to in order to find the suitable individuals for a certain job or education.
Our innovation is scalable. It could also be useful for other groups, such as young people and long-term unemployed people."
How do you see the future of your network?
"Our aim is to expand our network in Finland and other countries. Many European nations are currently struggling with the same problems. Our entrepreneurship programme will have trials in Milan, Barcelona and Berlin in 2019. We are also starting operations in other Nordic countries. In the future, we would like to reach every refugee arriving in Europe to be able to put their skills to use as quickly as possible."
Startup Refugees is a network that aims to enhance entrepreneurship and employment of asylum seekers and refugees. The network currently operates in 18 cities in Finland and is looking to expand in other European countries. The Finnish network involves 500 member organisations and over 100 companies. The network organises training sessions, offers guidance for entrepreneurship, helps companies find workforce and supplies mentoring services together with partner companies.