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Capacity Zurich| Entrepreneurship support for people with migrant or refugee experience

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Impact Hub Zürich is a community of over 800 entrepreneurial people. In this blog we introduce one of them every week. This week Emily tells the story of how she found her way to Capacity Zürich:  

Unused energy

Moving abroad is hard work, regardless of where you come from.  For the first few months after moving to Zurich, I felt dislocated and isolated, as if I lived in a bubble.  The reason eventually dawned on me: for the first time since I was a child, I had no timetable, no one asking me to do things and nothing connecting me to work, the thing that occupies most of our waking adult lives.  I was not alone in this feeling: many migrants and refugees face challenges in finding opportunities to demonstrate their skills, energy and passion in their new country.  

Capacity: Untapped human potential

In June 2015, I and a few others founded Capacity, a non-profit association in Zurich that provides training and support for people with refugee and migration experience to set up their own businesses or social/cultural initiatives. In partnership with the Impact Hub Zürich, the Cantonal Integration Office of the canton of Zurich, the Office for Economy and Labour and supported by the Swiss Federal Government’s credit for integration projects, we ran our first seven-month training programme last year and we have just opened applications for the 2017 programme.

Our aim is simple: to encourage, support and empower people with refugee or migration experience to make their potential visible in Switzerland. From last year’s cohort of participants, 3 people set up for-profit businesses, with Emi focusing on upcycling, Nafissa developing an Afghan catering company and Diana working on a healthy food product.  On the non-profit side, Chantico focused on expanding her social-cultural initiative, and Omar founded a charity bringing together elderly Swiss people with refugees whose families are far away.  The others in the programme either still developing their idea or decided to go and study further before starting their project or business.

In our 2016 programme evaluation, the majority of participants said that our programme helped them to feel more integrated to Swiss society, and better equipped to go out and participate in other business and social activities in Zurich.  

Connecting with the community

Our programme, and our activities on other aspects of the migration-integration-employment nexus, highlights the realities for many migrants, especially refugees, wherever they end up: that, all too often, the human potential that they embody is lost through barriers to employment and social engagement.  It is no surprise that refugee and migrant communities have a very high proportion of self-started businesses compared to resident populations – often, it is the only way for people to make a life for themselves.

It is also a real opportunity – energy,passion and determination are needed to make a business work, and these are all emotions that many migrants bring with them, regardless of why they move. Founding Capacity has helped me personally to learn German, build a network in Zurich, and start my career as a consultant and researcher into social-environmental change and relationships. For Capacity, working with organisations like the Impact Hub Zürich as well as government offices and businesses allows us to start bridging the barriers between Swiss society and people with migrant/refugee experience – a rewarding and impactful experience.

How can you make a change? 

Capacity has just opened up its 2nd mentoring programme for participation.  We are looking for participants, mentors and trainers – join our Information Evening on 1st March 2017 at the Impact Hub Zurich Garage, Geroldstrasse 33, 8005 Zurich, if you are interested to find out more.  All the information about the programme is available via our website www.capacityzurich.ch under ‘Mentoring 2017’.  We look forward to meeting you!

About the Author


Emily is a consultant and researcher originally from the UK. She specialises in non-profit management and research at the social-ecological interface. Emily is a Co-founder of Capacity Zurich.