Marinus Verweij: ''Syrian refugees should have the chance to start a business again. While they may have lost their business and their capital, they still have their entrepreneurial experience. ''

21 December, 2017

About Marinus Verweij

Marinus Verweij is chair of the Board of Directors of ICCO Cooperation, a development organisation working as partner for enterprising people to advance social security and the right of existence. ICCO as a ccoperative -unique among Dutch NGO's- has a decentralized structure with 7 regional offices on 3 continents. 

He started his career as a tropical doctor in Southern Africa. After 10 years he returned to the Netherlands and he has served in several capacities since then. He was director of humanitarian service provider ZOA, director of the independent governing body college bouw zorginstellingen and director at research institute TNO. In 2010 he moved to ICCO.

Recently, Marinus Verweij visited Jordan to actively promote ICCO'S new program on refugee entepreneurship. In this short interview, he provides a clear insight on the challenges his organization and refugees themselves face, in their effort to realize a future without poverty and injustice.

It seems that efforts to spur refugee entrepreneurship are internationally increasing. Nevertheless, refugees remain excluded from basic financial services. What is ICCO doing in promoting the financial inclusion of refugees?

ICCO searches for the best way to offer structural assistance to Syrian refugees (and the host countries, in this case Jordan). We are specifically searching for ways that will also be of use should refugees manage to return back home. ICCO believes that the way to do this is through entrepreneurship.

Many Syrian refugees had their own shop or business back home. They should have the chance to start a business again. While they may have lost their business and their capital, they still have their entrepreneurial experience.

If these refugees start a small business in the host country (e.g. Jordan), it’s not only a way for them to earn a livelihood, but it helps them to integrate socially and economically. More economic activity leads to new jobs, for Syrian refugees and for the Jordanian host community.


In your recent blog over your visit in Jordan, referring to ICCO’s new program on refugee entrepreneurship you mentioned ‘’legal hurdles’’ that you are confronted with. Could you provide a brief outline of those regulatory challenges and your opinion on how those could be overcome?

Currently entrepreneurs encounter several hurdles to (re)start their businesses in Jordan:

  1. social (e.g. perception by host community as unfair competitor, many refugees see Jordan as place of transition either back to Syria or elsewhere, afraid to lose their refugee status), 
  2.  legal (e.g. many informality due to costly procedure to open a registered business, costly work permits and quota on refugee employees) and 
  3.  financial (e.g. no credit history, insufficient collateral, low awareness of local funding opportunities)


In order to overcome these hurdles ICCO, together with Kerk in Actie, Agribusiness Booster and ImpactBooster, have established the Business Recovery Services & Fund (BRS & Fund). The BRS & Fund will provide a business acceleration program to scout the best entrepreneurs, support them with training (e.g. cultural awareness and avoiding social conflict, legal framework and government bodies, investor’s proposition, re-location business models), mentoring, opening networks and providing start-up loans.

In order to guarantee that these enterprises will benefit both refugees and host community, partnerships between refugees and Jordan entrepreneurs will be incentivized as well as reaching quotas of migrant and local employees, in line with the local legislation.

The fact that refugees are hoping to go back once the war is over, makes us believe in the potential to later on help rebuild Syria. For this reason we focus on ‘mobile’ enterprises, which can be relocated back home.

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