Grebel Student Refugee Experiences Drive Social Innovation

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

In November 2016, Conrad Grebel University College students Mark Whyte, Mariak Achuoth, Jonathan Smith, and Liban Farah accepted a challenge: to build a social enterprise that restores the rights and dignities of refugees. The team participated in the Hult Prize challenge – the world’s largest student competition for social good, competing for $1 million in start-up funding to launch a sustainable social venture.

Steeped in the University of Waterloo’s entrepreneurial atmosphere that spans technology to social innovation, this Grebel team was especially unique because it did not approach the problem from a westerner’s point of view. Liban and Mariak are both students who came to Canada through the World University Service of Canada Student Refugee Program, and have their tuition and living expenses paid for by University of Waterloo and Grebel students.

From Liban and Mariak's personal experiences, the team knew that there was little access to organized sports within Kenyan refugee camps. The team’s solution involved training referees in the camps, organizing tournaments to engage residents, and giving refugees the ability to create their own sports equipment – to play with and to sell as supplemental income.

The Hult Prize challenge this year was particularly captivating to these students who are in different programs and years, but brought together by living in the Grebel residence. Compelled by first-hand accounts of refugee life from his peers, Mark wanted to take action. “Looking at problems faced by refugees, brainstorming solutions, and sitting down with friends to really work hard at creating something useful to so many people, was incredibly satisfying. I think that the Bible encourages us to be working hard to help others out. Hebrews 13:16 says ‘Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.’ This verse inspires me to use all the resources I have been given as a university student to try to help others as much as possible.”

Motivated his experiences, and recognizing that he and Liban have many friends still living in refugee camps, Mariak loved inspiring others and sharing ideas with so many other people. Liban found himself inspired by all the ideas generated by the other teams. Looking to the future, Liban remarked “we have created an idea ourselves, that we will be able to use as a building block for a real-life business.”

“We would absolutely love to continue our idea,” reflected Mark, “but we will need more support and time to be able to work on it, in order to turn it into an actual business.” The team was very appreciative of advice from the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement, as they learned how to create a social entrepreneurial enterprise.

Of the 50 teams participating at UWaterloo, this Grebel team placed in the top ten. Bert Lobe, Chair of the Board of Directors for the Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support was one of three judges on the panel.

Students participated in the Hult Prize competition at University of Waterloo on November 24
Jonathan Smith (3rd year Business Administration/Computer Science), Mariak Achuoth (1st year Engineering BASE), Mark Whyte (3rd year Science), and Liban Farah (2nd year Health Promotion) participated in the Hult Prize competition at University of Waterloo on November 24, aiming to restore the rights and dignities of refugees.
PHOTO CREDIT: Darin White

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