Investing in jobs for refugees

Mestringsguiden Vippa fra venstre Ibrahim Alali, Ragnhild Settner, Mohammed Zaghmout og Izaddin Hami,  foto Oda Hveem

Ferd Social Entrepreneurs recently took a stake in Mestringsguiden. The company employs former refugees and is set to become Norway’s first social restaurant group.

Mestringsguiden already runs a cafe, a catering service and two food stalls in Oslo’s Vippetangen neighbourhood. In connection with this work the company employs 23 former refugees from Syria and Eritrea.

“Mestringsguiden gives people from a refugee background the opportunity to build themselves an independent life in Norway. Many of them find that a combination of hard work and strong food traditions gives them the opportunity to enter the world of work in their new country for the first time, and this of course benefits them in multiple ways. We want to help provide this opportunity to more former refugees”, comments Henriette Skretteberg from Ferd Social Entrepreneurs.

Gave up her job to start a company
Ragnhild Slettner was working for the City of Oslo when refugees were flocking to Europe in 2015. She decided to sign up as a volunteer to help those refugees who came to Norway.

Ragnhild Slettner quickly saw that the Norwegian system struggled to resettle the refugees, and that many had to wait a long time for somewhere to live even after being granted the right to stay. She spent a significant proportion of her time finding refugees somewhere to live. In the end, she gave up her job at the City of Oslo and started to work full time helping migrants find somewhere to live by setting up the one-person company Mestringsguiden. Later that year, she made the company into a not-for-profit company.

Secured the last food stall in Vippa
“I ended up constantly being invited over for dinner by the Syrians I had helped find somewhere to live. I went to dinner after dinner and ate an enormous amount of very good Syrian food. It turned out that there were no Syrian restaurants in Oslo, and I heard myself say on numerous occasions ‘We should start a restaurant so that people in Oslo can taste authentic Syrian food’”, Ragnhild recalls.

People in her network put her in touch with the people who were in the process of setting up Vippa, a food, culture and education centre located at the edge of Vippetangen. Ragnhild and her partner Christine Pramm secured the final food stall, crowd-funded NOK 87,000 in three weeks and opened the stall, called “Aleppo Bahebek”, in April 2017, selling food prepared by Syrian refugees.

“People come back because the food is outstanding”
In October of the same year, Mestringsguiden started another food stall, “Injera Palace”, which sells Eritrean food prepared by Eritrean women. Mestringsguiden also set up Inshalla Catering, which has made it possible to sell food from both food stalls for casual dining, for work functions, and for parties. Most recently, the company has opened Frodig, a cafe in the Intercultural Museum in Oslo’s Grønland neighbourhood.

“Our employees are really great and the most important thing is the food. People probably come out of solidarity the first time, but they come back because the food is outstanding”, comments Ragnhild Slettner, who emphasises that the most important thing is giving people the chance to rebuild their lives as independent people who earn a living.

Capital, expertise and networking
As they developed their activities, it became clear to Ragnhild Slettner and her team that their businesses needed more equity if they were to achieve their targets and grow.
“We were not actively looking but, through the Social StartUp accelerator program and our business developer, we were put in touch with teams and organisations that could help develop the company further”, explains Ragnhild Slettner.
Three investors, namely Sabine Ameln, Ramhi Khoudri and Ferd Social Entrepreneurs, became part-owners through a share issue in March 2019. The investors are now on the company’s board and are helping with capital, expertise and networking.
“It’s a good bet having a seasoned social investor such as Ferd Social Entrepreneurs on board. We are a not-for-profit company, meaning there will be no return other than the social impact we have. All the investors are on board with this and want to follow us and support us over time”, explains Ragnhild Slettner.

A longer version of this article is available in Norwegian in the Ferd Magazine by clicking here.


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