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Q: "What do a prosthetics inventor, an international pop star, and a pizza chain owner all have in common?"

September 26, 2017

A: They are all refugees, and they were all present at 'Innovation Knows No Borders', a conference in celebration of refugee innovation, and the power it has to inspire social, political and digital change.


So who was there?

Innovation Knows No Borders, organised by Migration Hub Network in collaboration with Wikistage, featured ten internationally renowned speakers, who all shared inspiring stories of their work helping to connect, liberate and empower refugees. 'Innovation' was the USP of this event-- and it certainly lived up to its name. The selection of speakers was a great example of how diverse the spectrum of 'innovation' really is: we had talks from creative and social innovators, tech and finance entrepreneurs, a school founder, and the leader of a rescue ship.


As well as guest speakers, we also had the chance to interact with lots of different social innovators, artists, and of course, all of our colleagues at the Migration Hub office, including 180 Degrees ConsultingMigration Matters, StartUp Your Future, Solidrinks and Wefugees.



What did PTC do?

Pass the Crayon had an info booth set up in the main co-working area, alongside all of our nonprofit pals. During the breaks audience members could come and chat with us, and find out more about our work. At the PTC table we displayed our leaflets and stickers, all designed by the wonderful Maille Foi. We also had a mini art station for any drifting people who fancied dabbling in a bit of ink art. 

Throughout the day we chatted to a lot of different people, and as a general rule, everyone present was either involved in some capacity with refugees, or a refugee themselves. It was heartwarming to meet so many passionate and talented individuals, all united under a common cause.


The speeches.

Ten very different speeches, each one adding something unique to the discussion. Some speeches resonated powerfully with the audience, particularly the stories told by refugee speakers, who spoke of their homelands and their deep desire to help the people still struggling in their native countries.


As much as the talks were emotive, they were equally informative, with many speakers presenting ideas which have led to major breakthroughs in their respective fields.


Here is a brief review of all ten speeches:


Alexander Betts

Key-note speaker, and director of the Oxford University Refugee Studies Centre, Alexander Betts, was our first speaker. As mentioned in my previous IKNB post (read here), Alexander Betts (rated one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers 2016) is a leading voice in the refugee welcome culture movement. He presented a compelling and evidence-based argument, explaining why immigration is a positive phenomenon, and any related problems can ultimately be solved by refugees themselves (citing numerous examples, including the inventions of PlumpyNut and LifeStraw).


He also reported a powerful statistical fact: 38% of refugees have had higher education (a larger percentage than many OECD countries), but  the unemployment rate is 82%. This represents a systemic problem and a clear failure of governments to provide fast-track access to job opportunities and training. There is so much that refugees have to offer, and it is unproductive to leave them stuck in 'protracted situations', unable to fulfill their potential, or contribute meaningfully. This needs to change.


Danica Jurisic

Danica Jurisic is a visual artist, photographer and activist, who spoke of her own experiences as a Jugoslavian refugee, and her observations on the refugee crisis, with particular focus on the current situation in Paris, where she reveals the shocking truth that 90% of unaccompanied migrants remain unaccepted by the state. 


Nat Ware

Nat Ware, the founder of 180 Degrees Consulting gave a brilliant talk on the concept of his organisation. The business and finance entrepreneur introduced us to 'TIBS' (Tradable Income-Based Securities), a mutually beneficial financial structure, which provides services to refugees and a return on investment for governments. A thought-provoking speech.



Fatuma Musa Afrah

Motivational speaker, voluntary worker and refugee activist Fatuma Musa delivered an empowering speech full of energy, and a call to mobilize in the fight for refugee rights.


Asem Hasna 

After tragically losing his leg in a shell blast in Syria, Asem travelled to Jordan where he became involved with Refugee Open Ware, a nonprofit committed to bringing advanced technological solutions to communities impacted by conflict. He went on to develop 3D printing technology which creates limb prosthetics at a fraction of the cost, enabling communities affected by war to afford prosthetics for the first time. He is now a refugee living in Berlin, and teaches computer coding and robotics to other refugees. A truly amazing story.


Adbul Rahman AlAshraf

Software engineer Abdul Al-Ashraf is the founder of Freecom, a revolutionary app which allows people to communicate through their mobile phone.... without using internet connection...

Yeah that's right. No. Internet. Connection. Using encrypted connections where no third party can monitor or control data, Freecom has the power to globally change the way we communicate. In recognition of this achievement, Freecom was given a 2016 European Youth award for digital innovation.



Titus Molkenbur

Co-founder of Jugend Rettet, Titus Molkenbur,  gave an amazing speech about the conception and devopment of Jugend Rettet- finding the money, finding the team, buying the ship, and heading out onto the open seas. His plan was simple yet extremely difficult to achieve, but he never stopped, and to this date, his ship IUVENTA has saved thousands of refugees from drowning.

Titus spoke about the negative politics surrounding immigration, and of the extreme lengths the Italian coastal police have taken in order to seize their ship, the IUVENTA. The ship was taken from them, but according to their twitter feed, it has just been released again!


We at PTC wish to offer  them all of our support and respect for the work that they do. Congratulations on the safe return of IUVENTA!

Mohammed Jimale

Founder of livestock trading app, Mohammed Jimale, gave a speech which was humorous and extremely informative. He spoke about his incredible journey from Somalian nomadic life to the Berlin tech startup scene, and his conceptualization and development of He also shared with us his top ten tips for being a successful entrepreneur


Mohammed Jimale's Top Ten Tips

  1. Identify a societal problem that you understand

  2. Get inspiration from initiatives everywhere

  3. Make a sustainable solution that has a business model

  4. Validate the idea... but dont believe the naysayers

  5. Make sure your USP is more than the social impact

  6. Don't be afraid to be different and bizarre

  7. Use technology, but dont forget the offline world!

  8. Think global, but focus on your local impact

  9. Take the risk and be mindful of failiure

  10. Keep learning and improving, but stay foccused on your mission


Edin Basic

The founder of Firezza, Edin Basic, talked to us about his own refugee journey from Bosnia to the UK. He spoke about the years he spent working his way up from dish washer, to restaurant manager, to district manager, to finally the owner of one of the most successful pizza chains in the whole of the UK. A great example of the power of hard work and determination.


Dashni Morad

Singer, activist and founder of the non-profit GreenKids, Dashni Morad, gave a beautiful speech in which she outlined her work with Greenkids, and spoke about her childhood in Kurdistan, before she moved to the Netherlands as a refugee. Dashni described how she and her siblings used to eat mangoes on their roof, and watch the stars every night before they went to bed. Her story was vivid and full of imagination, and at end she got us all to clap along as she performed a poem. What a great way to finish off the speeches!




After the formal conference had ended we all celebrated together at the after party. As well as yummy drinks, free pretzels and DJs, there was also a mini exhibition of artwork from RestART, From Syria with Love, and Love without Borders. I took a look, and here are some of my favourites.