Urgent voices: Social ventures address Europe's migrant crisis

Across Europe social entrepreneurs are stepping up to help address the social issues that have resulted from the migration crisis facing Europe. The European Venture Philanthropy Association puts the spotlight on a number of them – from an Airbnb style accommodation network to a catering business employing refugees.

The European migrant crisis has reached critical levels and has dominated media coverage of the continent over the past 12 months.

According to the International Organisation for Migration 750,000 migrants are estimated to have arrived by sea so far this year – although exact numbers are unclear as many individuals are likely to have passed through borders unofficially. Germany has had the most asylum applications, followed by Sweden and Austria, and the majority of those seeking asylum have come from Syria and Afghanistan.

This week at the 2015 European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) Annual Conference in Madrid, the spotlight has been put on social ventures working to support migrants and the communities they are relocating to, including:

Flüchtlinge Wilkommen, Austria

The team at Flüchtlinge Wilkommen (FW) was frustrated that for many refugees the only housing option available was mass accommodation – as opposed to shared flats or rented rooms for example. They decided to create a website that connects individuals with spare rooms or apartments with a person who has fled their home country. FW is able to connect with these people through NGO partners and other organisations working to support refugees. Hosts can receive financial help, as refugees in Austria are entitled to a certain amount of money to cover their housing needs.

Otvorena Mreža, Croatia

Otvorena Mreža was set up with the aim of ensuring everybody has free access to the internet. Volunteers from the organisation initially carried a USB 3G dongle in a backpack and walked around crowded areas of refugee camps with a 'Free WiFi' sign. They found that it was not just refugees that were in desperate need of the internet, but also aid workers trying to coordinate relief efforts. Otvorena Mreža has since worked with hacker groups to make and provide mobile wifi hotspots for refugees in a number of critical spots in Croatia, the first of which was in Tovarnik close to the border of Serbia. 

Refugee wifi_Croatia

Otvorena Mreža volunteers offering free WiFi

Talentify, Austria

Talentify is a peer-to-peer online platform that connects young people with other young people and tutors to develop their academic and social skills, regardless of their social or financial background. It is an open access private tutoring service and has recently started the initiative “Wir helfen!” to help young refugees to learn German. Austrian volunteers aged 14 to 19 years old provide tutoring to young refugees, many of whom are experiencing social isolation.

The Magdas Hotel, Austria

The Magdas Hotel is the first hotel in Europe run by refugees. This social business was founded by Caritas, a network of global charities connected to the Catholic Church, and opened its doors in February this year. It has 78 rooms and is providing high quality hospitality services to travellers in 27 languages.

Topfreisen.at, Austria

Catering business Topfreisen.at employs refugees to prepare international meals for its clients, which include corporations and individuals hosting private parties. As well as providing individuals with employment, the social venture offers employees benefits including German language courses.

Innovation Conference on Migration, Germany

On 21-23 of March next year Ashoka will bring together many of those listed and others in Berlin to share knowledge and experience, with the ultimate goal of developing a united group of social entrepreneurs working to address the social issues that result from mass migration. Ashoka will work with partners including ZalandoMcKinsey & Company and a number of welfare organisations to encourage greater collaboration between those working across Europe to support refugees.


The European Venture Philanthropy Network is a membership association made up of organisations interested in or practising venture philanthropy and social investment across Europe. 

Header image: Refugee Action protest 2013

Photo credit: Takver