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New project helps talented refugees

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Ursa Major, Orion, Cassiopeia, and Old Nicosia – they’re all constellations. Or they will be, come 2021, thanks to an innovative new project designed to help Cyprus’ refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers.

The pilot project of Project Phoenix (a privately-funded hybrid NGO and social enterprise dedicated to systemic change of the migrant inclusion ecosystem), Constellation is a social innovation lab and entrepreneurship space co-created with the refugee community in Old Nicosia. And like its namesake, it promises to be ‘set with stars’.

Print“Cyprus is home to many talented and motivated refugees and migrants who have what it takes to become entrepreneurs,” says Michael Göcken, Project Phoenix’s Founder and Executive Director. “But the impact they could have is limited – there are not enough resources and support mechanisms to mentor and coach these migrant entrepreneurs and allow them to reach their full potential. And there are no adequate physical spaces for them to develop their ideas, meet their peers, work with mentors and become mentors themselves for more recent arrivals.”

Through the launch of Constellation, Michael and team hope to create a “unique social innovation lab and entrepreneurship space co-created with the refugee community in Nicosia.” A space which will serve as both work and community space; a home for the development of refugee-led ideas and products; a place which can provide a safe space for its members; and an entrepreneurial hub for mentoring and coaching sessions, workshops and events.

“Constellation will serve as a co-created social innovation lab, a coaching/mentoring hub, a workspace and a pop-up store for refugee-led, entrepreneurial projects,” explains Michael. “It will provide refugee entrepreneurs with a place to work, access the internet, meet their mentors, and allow more energy for developing new ideas and paying it forward by becoming mentors to others.”

While several support and service centres for migrants and refugees already exist on the island, there is currently “no real space in Cyprus for migrants where they can actually gather and build upon their ideas and experiences to harness the power of innovation and technology to become entrepreneurs,” continues Hrishabh Sandilya, the Project’s local director.

A Czech citizen with Indian roots, Hrishabh moved to Cyprus last year to set up and launch Project Phoenix’s pilot undertaking. “Migrants and refugees need opportunities to show what they are capable of,” he explains. “There’s a social entrepreneurship revolution coming across the world and it needs creative spaces and containers to take place in; spaces for inspiration and professional development that showcase migrant entrepreneurship and social innovation. This is a tried and tested model in the rest of Europe and, given the limited opportunities refugees have on the island, it’s something that needed to happen here too. The perception of migrants and refugees here is,” he adds with a wry smile, “sceptical at best!”

Constellation, both hope, will go a long way towards changing such perceptions, bringing refugees and locals, or ‘Fellows’ and ‘Mentors’, together for the good of all “once the Covid cloud has lifted; we are hoping to be up and running by the early Spring 2021,” says Michael.

In its initial stages, the project will focus on providing “a small space, mostly for our Fellows to work, meet their mentors and clients, exhibit and sell their products,” Michael continues. “We want the concept to develop organically through collaboration and participation; somewhat like a co-working space, but geared towards the needs of this specific target group.

“Once we have established a workable model, we want to expand the space to be more open to the wider community and allow it to become a space for everyone, including a community kitchen, event space, cultural hub, and many more ideas. We’re also hoping to launch a Social Incubator where Cypriots and refugees can work together to address social issues through social enterprises.”

Thus far, the project has been staffed entirely by volunteers and privately funded. “Until now, I have been funding Project Phoenix myself,” Michael explains. “This was a deliberate choice, because I wanted the project to be able to have the freedom to grow slowly and organically, without the need to implement projects that we didn’t believe in.” But as Constellation has moved forward, its organisers have started to reach out to the community through crowdfunding community platform Global Giving.

“Our target of €12,000 is based on what we believe we will need to run Constellation for a year, including rent, expenses, equipment, some renovations and also to cover the costs for our Fellows to start using the space immediately. But the more we raise, the more features we will be able to implement from the beginning, and the sooner we can provide access to more participants.”

While Constellation has already secured funding for a number of Online English classes and Covid-19 impact research projects, it’s currently in the process of procuring a physical space. “Nicosia’s old town is a bustling thriving oasis of culture, food and innovation and the migrant heart of Cyprus,” explains Hrishabh. “It’s also the beating heart of the city and where we’re going to be based. Right now, we’re looking at a couple of places a few blocks from Ledra and Onasagorou streets. It’s important that wherever we go is scalable, as we move forward to the next phases of this project.”

Fellows are currently being accepted, dependent on their recommendations, motivation, project ideas, and the level of commitment they can provide. And Mentors are being welcomed to the fold: “Cyprus-based experts and successful entrepreneurs who can be mentors in fields that our Fellows want to work in; volunteers and people who believe in the potential that migrants bring to their new host countries,” says Michael.

In time, through further funding and corporate support, Michael hopes that payment may be involved. But for now, the project is all about giving freely of one’s time and energy (and perhaps one’s wallet) to help fund the stars of tomorrow. After all, this is an undertaking based on – and named for – a truly stellar phenomenon…

“Though the people and ideas that will come together can be very different,” Michael concludes, “they form a constellation. A constellation of ideas, people, synergies, and social innovation.”

 

For more information, or to volunteer your services as a Mentor, visit https://www.project-phoenix.eu/ or https://www.facebook.com/projectphoenixeurope

To help fund Constellation, visit https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/social-innovation-lab/

 

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