Helping Refugees: Q&A With Singa Co-Founder Guillaume Capelle


SEATTLE — According to the Pew Research Center, in 2015, 1.3 million refugees sought asylum in the European Union. This new surge of people, aggravated by the Syrian conflict, is half composed of refugees from three countries: Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Many asylum seekers can find resources for housing or medical aid, but rare is the social support that truly integrates communities of people together. One nonprofit, Singa, is seeking to change that.

Singa, created by international relations graduates Guillaume Capelle and Nathanël Molle, seeks to not only support refugees economically but socially as well by involving them in events and networking with their host countries. This takes the shape of locals and refugees taking yoga classes together, attending business workshops and, in one case, starting a hip hop band.

Capelle is now in charge of all international support for Singa as it expands its network into nine new cities in seven new countries. The Borgen Project sat down with Capelle to talk about the nonprofit, what it does and why it’s important.

The Borgen Project: Tell me a little bit about the support that Singa gives refugees?

Guillaume Capelle: What we want to do is actually create a community where people can meet on an equal basis. So you’re not a refugee or you’re not a French person – you’re just someone who loves dancing or you’re just someone who is an engineer and is looking for a job. And so it changes the perspective…when you’re not doing for but you’re doing with you’re actually opening new doors to what people can bring to the exchange.

The way it works is that people express different interests, they love football, they love dancing and they express their skills. Or they say they’re really good at communication and we have an algorithm matching that. Then it’s about projects — people who say they want to learn a language or they want to create a company. We put people in that dynamic of creating something together, creating a common future and that’s how it works.

TBP: What does Singa offer refugee entrepreneurs?

Capelle: The places where you can just say you want to start a company and people won’t laugh at you are pretty rare in France if you’re a foreigner. So we just created a place where people can express their ideas and can express their projects. What we realized is that a lot of refugees notice things that are missing in our society or notice things that could be improved. But they have difficulties to express that because it’s a new language or because also they are facing new administrative cultures – so that’s where Singa is very useful…the way we do it is a network. We just make sure that they have a desk at our office and they can meet with other entrepreneurs who are locals and we can tell them about how it works in France, but it’s a lot of informal connections. We just look at the resources that we have locally and make sure we connect them with refugee entrepreneurs.

TBP: How have you seen your program change the lives of not only refugees but host nations as well?

Capelle: In many ways. We have a program called CALM [Comme à la Maison] which is a roommates kind of program so you can stay for three to 12 months at someone’s place. You can discover society and for the hosts, you can have a better understanding of the world, a better understanding of where people come from. What we’ve seen is that it’s creating jobs because 44 percent of people hosted got a job through the network, 27 percent of them went back to university to study a degree, and 4 percent of them started a company. If you compare these numbers to actual job centers, for example, this is amazing. Refugees going to the job center, only 8 percent of them get a job but with CALM it’s 44 percent so you can see how powerful the community is.

For the locals, I’d say it gives them a purpose. A really striking example is we have a hip-hop band that has been created at Singa with a guy from England, a guy from France and a guy from Syria. It’s really interesting to see how, for the Syrian rapper, this has changed his life but also how to the French guy this has completely given him a sense of purpose and a sense of what he could do in his society. This effect is what we see in many locals who are looking to make sense of the society we’re living in and find that sense in Singa activities.

TBP: You’ve mentioned that you believe asylum can be a source of innovation. How is that?

When you discover a new place you always see things that are different and sometimes missing because you’ve seen them in your country but you don’t see them here. This is innovation – you can bring something that exists elsewhere. Also, the discovery of a new place makes you think about new ideas. It just happened this way and if you learn a new language, if you discover a new culture, you always come up with amazing ideas.

Second, when you create a connection between two really different people or two really different groups you also create innovation. If you have someone from France and someone from Pakistan who created a restaurant they create something that is unique. So this is also innovation. You can do this in any kind of area.

TBP: What are you planning now for 2017?

Capelle: We’re not going to be the one organizing events anymore, we’re going to be the ones training people to organize the best possible events.

A lot of people ask me what I want to achieve with Singa and my answer is that I want Singa to vanish. I want Singa to disappear. Basically, this would be the most successful scenario. What we want to achieve is that many companies, associations, and people inside our society see asylum and refugees the same that we do. If that happens someday they won’t need us anymore and this would be perfect.

Tammy Hineline

Photo: Flickr


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