Everyone should be given a chance
Ben & Jerry’s partnered with TERN (The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network) – an ambitious young social enterprise – to create the Ice (Ice Cream Entrepreneurs) Academy.
The programme works with refugees to develop their business ideas through entrepreneurship training, mentoring and part-time employment.
As Cat Baron, Ben & Jerry's European Social Mission Programme Officer, says: “Everyone at some point needs to be given a chance. While this is only one small step, we hope this programme might be the foundation that people need in going on to fulfil their potential and help put their futures back in their own hands.”
Chineze: The lawyer with a passion for chilli sauce
Growing up in Nigeria, my mum instilled a strong work ethic in me from an early age. She ran a catering business alongside her day job in the public sector. When she got a big order, we would all help. I envied my friends going to parties. But it prepared me for what lay ahead.
I studied law, then got a job at a bank in Lagos. After a few years, I left to start my own law firm. I really enjoyed this time but it wasn’t conducive to raising a family. So, I joined the legal department of the National Board for Community Banks. The job came with more regular hours and less travel.
In 2008, I had to escape what had turned into an abusive marriage. I feared for my safety and that of my children. I didn’t have a well-thought-out plan. I just packed our cases and left for the UK. It was scary – I was 45 and my kids were 15, 12 and 9 at the time.
My two eldest have now graduated university and with the other one currently studying for a degree, I decided I needed to do something for myself again.
I have always enjoyed cooking. Mum was a great cook but a strict teacher – she was all about getting things just right. My grandmother made me fall in love with how food should be prepared and enjoyed. She liked to use a small number of fresh ingredients to make food that tasted amazing.
When family and friends started asking to buy my food, I knew there was a business idea there. But I didn’t know where to start. Also, at that time, my confidence was low. The Ice Academy helped with both. It taught me about things like marketing and research. It also restored my self-belief.
My target is professionals who don’t have time to prepare good, healthy food. I also cater events and parties. I’m diabetic so my diet is low in fat and sugar. It’s mainly traditional Nigerian dishes but I love fusion. My speciality is my chilli sauce. My children love it, and they are my fiercest critics.
I’m not making a living out of it at the moment, but I have big plans. I work night shifts in a care job so I can cook during the day. Eventually, I want to sell my food and sauces through supermarkets, as well as having a catering side. I want Nana Nokki to become a household name.
Pouyan: The banker who wants to support fellow refugees
Living and working in Iran, I had everything I could wish for – a good job in banking, a house, a nice car, enough money and lots of friends. But I was also outspoken about human rights. This led to problems with the government, and I felt I was in danger of being arrested and punished.
That made life very difficult and my mental health really suffered. It got to the point where I couldn’t take it any more, so one day I decided to leave it all behind. That was a tough decision – to just walk away from everything I knew and start again from scratch somewhere new and unfamiliar.
You can’t take money out of the country, so I arrived in the UK with nothing. I also had no family or friends here. It took a while to get my visa and that whole time you can’t do anything. I had gone from having a decent position in society to barely surviving on benefits.
When I finally got settled, I began to put my life back together, but finding a job wasn’t easy. For professional roles, my English wasn’t good enough. For non-skilled jobs – in customer service, for example – I was over-qualified. So, the first thing I did was go to college to improve my English.
I was thinking about starting my own business. I had an idea, but I didn’t know how to take even the first steps to make it happen. TERN and the Ice Academy are helping me understand how business works in the UK. It’s also giving me confidence to pursue my dream.
My idea is to provide refugees with services – like therapy, workshops and social events – to help meet their emotional and relationship needs. This is a huge problem for many people. But refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, understandably, tend to suffer more with these kinds of issues.
I’m excited to get this up and running, so I can help people in a similar situation as myself. My goal is to study cognitive science and do something in that field. But that’s longer term. I need to get qualifications so I can apply to university.
Uche: The car-parts dealer who moved into bubble wrap
I grew up in Nigeria. After completing secondary school, I didn’t go to university. I was never particularly interested in that path. But, from a young age, I worked in my family business, which was dealing in motor spare parts. This taught me a lot about buying and selling.
I left in the 1990s and eventually came to the UK in 2005. It was a difficult journey to get to the UK and, when I arrived, life was tough. I didn’t understand the culture and way of life, and just hung out with friends. I made some bad decisions and ended up in prison for a short time.
When I got out in 2008, I started working for an organisation that helps LGBTQ people who have recently left prison. It’s rewarding – I feel I’m actually making a difference to their lives. But I have always wanted to run my own business. I just didn’t know what that would be initially.
When I started looking into what I could buy in the UK and export to Africa, I discovered that a lot of people come here to buy second-hand goods like TVs and washing machines. I saw a few people selling packaging materials to wrap them up for shipping. That gave me the idea.
Around that time, a friend introduced me to TERN and the Ice Academy, which I joined in 2017. As part of the programme, I sold Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at Thorpe Park. Meeting customers face-to-face built my confidence. It also taught me skills like how to pitch my business.
I sell packaging materials – like bubble wrap – to people who buy goods in the UK to send home. I started a year ago and am looking to expand. I was recently in Ghana, researching what I could import. Along with car parts, there seems to be a gap in the market for dog food.
I’m also now an ambassador for TERN, helping to get more people involved in their programme.
Supporting entrepreneurs across Europe
Ben & Jerry’s launched the Ice Academy in 2017 with eight aspiring entrepreneurs who arrived in the UK as refugees. The programme combines a four-month business training course with part-time employment. In 2018, we expanded the project to 28 people in the UK, ten in the Netherlands and ten in Germany. This year, we launched in France and we have the ambition to support 80 additional entrepreneurs across Europe.