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Building A Bridge For Refugees To Start New Careers And New Lives In Safety – Zarah Bruhn

Zarah Bruhn
Zarah Bruhn

June 20th marks World Refugee Day – an internationally recognised opportunity, organised by the United Nations, to recognise, honour and celebrate refugees from around the world whilst shining a much-needed spotlight on the conflicts and crises which have forced people to flee their homes in order to seek safety.

Going further, each year, World Refugee Day champions the right for refugees to find economic and social inclusion, as well as to visibly advocate for finding solutions to the root causes of their plights.

Business schools and universities – institutions which exist to educate the next generation, shape future society and find solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges, support refugees through education access and support, outreach initiatives and research.

In recognition of World Refugee Day, BlueSky Thinking speaks to business school students and alumni around the world using their experiences, voices and actions to help make the world a better place…

Could you provide an overview of the services and support that your nonprofit offers to refugees?

socialbee has integrated around 1000 refugees across the DACH region to date, by matching them directly with jobs and upskilling them in sought-after professions. We do this by running qualification programmes in areas such as logistics, project management, IT or the care sector and by building an expansive network of partner companies.

Our extensive experience since 2016 now allows us to also offer consulting services to firms in order to help them build more tolerant, diverse teams and leverage these advantages to attract the talent of tomorrow. Through this, we are on our way to becoming the number one integration service provider – not only in Germany, but in Europe. 

What are some of the biggest challenges your organisation has faced in supporting refugees, and how have you worked to address them?

Bureaucracy in Germany can make integration unnecessarily difficult. We work proactively with other non-profits and migration experts to improve the efficiency of the asylum process. Not only do we need companies that want to hire diverse people, we also need a system that makes this possible in an uncomplicated way.

In addition, access to funding is always an issue. Our solution is ready to scale and grow internationally, but raising funds for a social business is a challenge, even with a proven concept.

“With socialbee, I wanted to span the gap between refugees and companies and bring them together so both sides benefit.”

Could you share a success story or example that demonstrates the positive impact your organisation has had on the lives of refugees?

The beauty of our work is that the successes are also very diverse. Some stories start small, with people who fled without education or work experience and courageously built their careers here from the very beginning. Others have not been able to attest to what degrees they already have – and have been able to reconnect to their careers here through our certifications.

In principle, every degree, every placement, every company that wants to work with us repeatedly for years is a new success story for us. 

What inspired you to start a nonprofit organisation focused on assisting refugees?

The arrival of over a million of refugees in Germany in 2015 and 2016 was definitely a turning point. Back then, I was at the main station with many other volunteers, trying to help where I could. But I quickly realised that the voluntary help was often disorganised and not a long-term solution to many problems that refugees would face after the first few weeks in Germany.

Starting a new life in a new country is also about independence, about social connection and about making a living for your family. But although companies were quick to promise that they would hire refugees, not much happened. Refugees faced huge barriers to the labour market, although labour shortage was already real back then.

That is something I wanted to change. With socialbee, I wanted to span the gap between refugees and companies and bring them together so both sides benefit.

How did your business education help in your venture?

Of course, my business degree helped me in starting up and running a business. One experience that really shaped me was being part of thinc!, the university’s initiative for entrepreneurship. I got to know a lot of impressive entrepreneurs that really inspired me to eventually found my own business.

In general, I found the University of Mannheim to be a really stimulating environment. Since it’s a campus university, you get to spend a lot of time with a bunch of really smart people. These people really shaped my outlook on life and inspired me to think big and be bold when it came to founding my business.

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