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Migrant communities leading change

Ensuring newcomers to Canada thrive—not just survive—is the focus of SFU’s Refugee Livelihood Lab, a vital initiative that is inspiring new voices, ventures and solutions in Surrey, B.C.

The lab works to shift systemic barriers and generate social and economic opportunities for migrants, a term which includes refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers and other newcomers. It is part of SFU’s commitment to engage migrant communities through a multi-pronged approach that involves research, programming and student support.

“Our goal is to amplify the projects of emerging migrant leaders,” explains Camille Dumond, who, with colleague and SFU graduate student Nada el Masry, helped to launch the lab with two unique programs through RADIUS, SFU’s social innovation hub based out of the Beedie School of Business.

With support and mentorship from staff, faculty and community advisors, participants explore a number of barriers faced by refugees and immigrants: labour exploitation and precarious work, lack of credential recognition, discrimination, social isolation, racism, language barriers, and pressure to assimilate. The process has generated a variety of social enterprises including The Global Market, a pop-up market platform by and for newcomer women with micro-businesses, and Roots & Shoots, an educational game by and for refugee youth to address belonging through language in the classroom.

“Participants are the experts. They turn their lived experience of the situation and barriers into systems leadership and expertise of solutions,” said el Masry. “This process needs to be driven and led by people who are most impacted by inequities in the system.”

Overall the lab has enhanced meaningful social, political and economic participation for newcomers. A number of the ventures/founders from the lab have been connected to larger organizations as sponsors or partners to build further capacity. Program managers also observed a significant shift in people’s confidence and willingness to take more risks.

“Before, many people believed ‘the problem is me—I’m the issue,’” explains el Masry. “A theme we heard was that this process helped people believe in themselves and each other, and have a lot of support to move forward.”

Dumond says building relationships across the local immigrant population and with business and community leaders throughout the region was critical to the program’s successful first year.

“Participants are telling us they feel connected and part of a community. They have a deep feeling of being heard and being met. This is a value that is not often brought into business development. We are creating a culture of really being seen, of home and belonging.”

The Refugee Livelihood Lab is generously supported by some of SFU’s closest partners, including the BC Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, Vancouver Foundation, Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation, Innoweave, Tosan Omatsola, the City of Surrey and the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership.

For more information on making an impact alongside migrant communities in B.C., please contact Nada el Masry at nelmasry@radiussfu.com