Refugee business owners highlight of Entrepreneurship Day


Project AZO! is taking a group of potential businesses owners to meet self-employed refugees as part of Unizo’s Entrepreneurship Day

Putting experience to work

Today is Dag van de Ondernemer (Entrepreneurship Day) in Flanders, an event sponsored by Unizo that profiles various people who are self-employed and encourages others to consider the career option. Unizo is an umbrella organisation for self-employed people in Flanders and Dutch-speaking Brussels.

Project AZO! is not missing this opportunity to introduce the concept of entrepreneurship to Flanders’ newest residents. The programme, spearheaded by Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, or Flemish Refugee Action, assists refugees in starting their own businesses.

Whether they want to open a hair salon or become a freelance graphic designer, legally recognised refugees can turn to Project AZO! for advice and assistance. The organisation is visiting two successful entrepreneurs in Ghent today with several candidates interested in starting their own businesses.

“It’s important that refugees with entrepreneurial ambitions see that it is a viable option, provided they are properly prepared,” said Project AZO! co-ordinator Frank Maleszka. “Many of them have been self-employed in their home countries, though often in a less structured situation. Project AZO! wants to get this experience into the Flemish labour market.”

Local mentors

The group will be visiting two Syrian entrepreneurs today: Mamdough Zinou, owner of King2 restaurant, specialising in Syrian and Lebanese food, and Mahmoud Yasen of Taiba Market, a neighbourhood supermarket and bakery.

Project AZO! is present in all five Flemish provinces. Every potential entrepreneur is linked to a local mentor, who first carries out an assessment as to whether the candidate is ready and able to start a business. If so, an intensive training is carried out to prepare the candidate for what self-employment requires and the laws that regulate it.

Project AZO! was launched two years ago and has worked with nearly 300 refugees so far. More than 30 have successfully started their own businesses. It is a temporary project, with additional funding and support provided by Unizo, employment and training agency VDAB and the government of Flanders.

Photo: Project AZO! helped Hasmik, originally from Russia, start her own tailoring business
©Courtesy Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen