VCU SOE leads effort to help refugee entrepreneurs
Between 2011 and 2017, over 2,692 refugees resettled in the Richmond metropolitan region, and an estimated 5,000 refugees, asylees and special immigrant visa recipients currently live in the area.
Many of these new arrivals come to the U.S. with skills that do not transfer easily to employment opportunities. Since higher education and training opportunities to attain the required credentials are often cost-prohibitive and may take years to complete, an appealing alternative for many refugees is small or home-based business ownership.
The Center for Refugee Economic Opportunity (CREO), a partnership between the VCU School of Education (VCU SOE) and five local community groups, is working to address this issue by providing support to refugees who wish to pursue opportunities as entrepreneurs.
To that end, the group held their inaugural meeting – a summit of community leaders and organizers – recently at the VCU da Vinci Center. Julie Gorlewski, chair of the VCU SOE Department of Teaching and Learning, told attendees that CREO was formed specifically in response to a call for grant proposals to implement microlending programs for refugees interested in starting their own entrepreneurial and small business endeavors.
"The philosophy for this effort really echoes Anna Lou [Schaberg]’s vision, which is that none of us is as smart as all of us."
CREO is made up of the following core organizations:
- VCU School of Education
- VCU Literacy Institute
- VCU da Vinci Center for Innovation
- VCU Innovation Economy
- The Richmond International Rescue Committee
- The Community Tax Law Project
The CREO partnership plans to offer refugee participants opportunities through credit-building loan products, credit and loan repayment counseling, entrepreneurial training, marketing workshops, and financial and English literacy workshops and instruction. A dedicated “navigator” will provide customized guidance to participants throughout the program and loan repayment process.
Gorlewski said that CREO’s vision grew out of the vision of its predecessor, the Refugee Care Community, and its co-founder, VCU SOE alumna Anna Lou Schaberg (M.Ed. ’70).
“The philosophy for this effort really echoes Anna Lou’s vision, which is that none of us is as smart as all of us,” Gorlewski told the group. “We all have assets that we can contribute. We can do more, be more, and accomplish more together than we can as individual constituencies.”
At the summit, representatives from the core group described the program and solicited feedback on the CREO model. Gorlewski said that the core team would be reaching out to all attendees soon to see which groups would be interested in joining CREO and contributing to its mission to support refugees and build a stronger RVA.