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

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 Consulting, Migration 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.

So what did Twitter have to say?

The Migration Hub Network feed was popping off all through the day, with everybody expressing their admiration and appreciation for the speakers. Here is a selection of tweets:

The best voice recordings you will ever hear. Ever.

Pass the Crayon recently invested in a shiny new toy- a voice recorder! I tried it out for the very first time, here at IKNB. Brace yourselves...

First, I spoke with Ana Alvarez, founder and CEO of Migration Hub Network, and chief IKNB co-coordinator, who gave me a quick run through of her thoughts about the day:

Thanks Ana for taking the time to chat with me, and congratulations on putting together such an amazing event!

Next I spoke to Johannes Bittel, Wikistage representative and co-host for the event. His energy on stage, great introductory speeches and overall passion for the subject was a key ingredient in the amazing atmosphere of IKNB. He quickly gave me a few words:

I also spoke with Geertje von Holz from StartUp Your Future, which is a mentoring scheme for refugees who wish to start their own business. StartUp Your Future matches refugees with established entrepreneurs, who offer them on-to-one mentoring and access to important business networks. Here is what Geetrje thought of the day:

In general, everyone I chatted to was suffused with energy and excitement from the speeches. After the talks had ended, we all had passionate conversations with other audience members, sharing our ideas and thoughts on the day, and our hopes for the future.

Highlights of the day

There were many highlights I could mention. One which stood out in particular was the incredibly truthful speech made by Titus Molkenbur. He emphasised the fact that many of us present were in a position of great privilege, and we should value this privilege and use it for the benefit of all. He also raised the uncomfortable truth that for 'privileged' as a condition to exist, there must necessarily be an 'unprivileged' group. Titus reminded us all how fundamentally unfair this is. I only caught the end of his speech, but these last few words were enough to leave an impression.

There were moments during the day which brought us all together; certain stories or speeches which inspired spontaneous applause, and even a few tears. One such moment was after the second round of speeches, when a man stood up and revealed that he had been one of the migrants who had been rescued from the Mediterranean by Titus's ship: "Without you, thousands more people would have died" he said, and we all all burst into applause.

Another amazing moment was Dashni Morad's poem, which beautifully captured the spirit of the day.

The closing speeches were also very moving. Ana Alvarez didn't want to miss anybody out, thanking everyone at Migration Hub individually, and getting them all to come up on stage. It was lovely to see such camaraderie and affection amongst the team.

Moving forward

Titus's boat, the IUVENTA, has already rescued over 14,000 migrants from the Mediterranean sea. To date, Dashni Morad's Green Kids has distributed over 200,000 books to schools in Kurdistan. Mohammed Jimale's has traded over 1,500 animals to buyers in 24 different countries. 180 Degrees Consulting has provided over $100 million of consulting services to nonprofits and socially conscious organisations. And that's just a few examples..

I think it is safe to say, that everybody involved with IKNB came away from the event with a renewed hope and fresh resolve. Not only the innovation, but the sheer hard work, determination and vision of each speaker left us all feeling truly inspired, and pondering how we too, could make a difference.


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