Most of the communities would not qualify because access to technology was a key challenge for them. Then being able to verify their identities would be as difficult. Yet, sections of the displaced communities had their identities validated by UNHCR. Cases like UN Camps in Jordan are good examples. UNHCR has been using biometrics. They also issue these UN Registered Refugees with debit cards they top up every month. This allows for efficient flow of funds in near real time. The team also discovered in one UN Camp there is an informal economy of $11m a month. (Source: Cambridge University Study). None of the businesses there can access financial services of any kind. This touched us as a team. We felt here was a collection of people looking to take ownership of their own lives. Despite facing the hardships of displacement they wanted to empower themselves. But, these refugee entrepreneurs could not access basic support business support. For example, over 2,000 micro businesses exist there. Not one can access financial services like business insurances to protect their inventory. Growth finance, or even mainstream business banking.
BizGees felt peer to peer micro loans would be good way to orgainse this. It would support the refugee entrepreneurs scale their businesses. And, engage with people who care about them at the same time. These relationship may then become life long friendships. We settled on interest free micro loans as the best option. We felt the take up rates for interest free finance would be high. It would be culturally sensitive given most of the people in that UN Camp are Muslims.
Innovate Finance invited us to their annual conference 2016. The team delivered their pitch and used the event to network. We were given VIP passes. We met the BBC and gave a radio interview. The venue - the Guildhall in the City of London had special significance for one of the members. He had previously served with the City of London Militia ( Honourable Artillery Company) . Historically, their role focused around protecting the Guild of the City of London.
During this time we did manage to onboard some key advisers during this time. One adviser - Kilian Kleinschmidt - was an ex Deputy UNHCR Representative. He was a Senior Field Coordinator for UNHCR at the UN Camp they were looking to target in Jordan. The other specialised in Micro Chain - a version of blockchain we were looking to use. Francis Chen was the technical lead at MIT during his Master’s on the Micro Chain project.
From a product development point of view. BizGees managed to generate a specialist micro financial service for Refugee Entrepreneurs. Along the way we took a trip to Jordan along with their F10 Mentors. We met refugee entrepreneurs in Zaatri the UN camp in Jordan. This gave us a first hand insight into the lives of the refugees they were looking to support.
BizGees now offer refugee entrepreneurs access to business in a box solutions. This support refugees become successful entrepreneurs while adding value to their host countries. This pivotal change in direction took their supporters by surprise. BizGees felt it important to find a low risk point of entry into the market. So we changed geography from Jordan to Uganda. Here refugees have the right to work and experience a progressive environment. We also changed from peer to peer micro loans to micro franchise fee loans. This increased the impact of each loan was greater by factor of 3. The knock on impact / multiplier effect is also greater. For instance, the training the refugees receive helps them understand how to organise a business. How to engage with clients? How to manage inventory? How to organise business records? 6 month of business mentoring as well. We will be returning to Jordan, just later in our growth cycle. All this occurred in less than two months.
This approach helps BizGees support the host country at the same time. So, the bang for the buck goes up several fold. For instance, we now organise credit records for all the entrepreneurs working with Wessex Social Ventures. All the micro entrepreneurs get to build up a business level identity allowing them to enter the mainstream financial system. This is a positive externality we generate through our daily operations. This also allows BizGees to act as a feeder to other financial institutions. For example, Kilian is now part of a SME bank ( still a work in progress ). He has the backing of a sovereign wealth fund to support SME’s in rural areas in the developing world. Another example are the UN Development goals that get supported along way. Each business in a box solution necessarily supports at least 5 of the 17 UN Development goals at the same time.