“Refugees and migrants are resources rather than a burden” – Innocent Tshilombo

by Kasia Kotlarska / June 2023

Social World Enterprise Forum (SEWF23) is getting closer and the excitement is rising every day. Recently, we announced the first 20 speakers for SEWF23 and today, on World Refugee Day, we’re spotlighting the impactful work of SEWF23 speaker, Innocent Tshilombo, whose work at Kakuma Ventures (Kenya) helps African refugees become entrepreneurs. Innocent himself is a tech entrepreneur and humanitarian professional who has led businesses, education programmes and humanitarian operations in hard-to-reach areas. In our interview with him, he speaks about the impact his work has had on people and how he encourages his team despite challenges and setbacks.

Tell us about the most exciting success and impact stories from Kakuma Ventures

Kakuma Ventures’ most exciting success and impact stories are the people in refugee camps and other underserved communities who were without access to the electricity grid and reliable connectivity, but through our work, got access to these. Our success stories include the people who graduate from institutions of higher education while contributing to the development of their communities; the people who acquire new skills or improve existing skills to seize more opportunities; the people who diversify their sources of income to absorb climate shocks and be more resilient. And last but not least, the people who are able to access business and employment opportunities because of accessing Kakuma Ventures’ solar-powered connectivity solution, are part of our success stories.

What are some of the misconceptions about refugees and migrants that you’re trying to correct?

Refugees and migrants are resources rather than a burden for their host communities and countries. They should be given the opportunity to contribute.

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That’s right. And when it comes to your team members, how do you motivate them when there are challenges or setbacks?

The underlying challenges we face operating in refugee camps and other low-resource areas compel us to do more and work much harder for little results. Worse when there is no result, or all efforts lead to loss. Such situations do not make us back down because we believe there is an opportunity in every challenge; it’s just about finding that opportunity to learn and move forward. I always remind the team to focus more on learning from the challenges rather than the challenge’s negative effects. This is how I maintain the team despite everything. 

What are some things a young Kenyan should have in mind when starting a social business?

A social enterprise should be driven by passion and the courage to take on challenges. With social entrepreneurship, the worldview is more disruptive than conventional or standard. To be a successful social entrepreneur, business is not business as usual, but the results are immense.

Finally, how do you measure the long-term impact of Kakuma Ventures on the people and communities you serve?

With Kakuma Ventures, I envision more resilience in underserved communities, more power for people to exercise control over their livelihoods and aspirations. 

Fairness, ensuring equality and inclusion for all is one of the themes at this year’s Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF23). Come join Innocent and thousands of changemakers around as they form new collaborations and share ideas on several ways to create fairer systems for refugees and people all over the world.

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