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Rebuilding lives and strengthening communities through socio-economic integration of refugees and asylum seekers

Project Phoenix works to support the social and economic integration of newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers to their new country.

Photo of Michael Goecken
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Our support comes through careful selection of promising newcomers motivated to rebuild their lives. We understand that when faced with loss of home, stability and identity, those seeking to start over are facing extraordinary challenges. We also celebrate their resilience and strength. Our work is to raise them up and assist them to achieve their potential by leveraging our existing material and social capital networks to help them rebuild and thrive in their newly adopted home. We focus on the importance of social capital in terms of long-term success and stability. This means fostering interpersonal connections professionally and socially among those newly arrived, host communities and international support networks. The core premise of Project Phoenix in working with our partners is that of dignity and self-reliance. We understand how the sense of loss of home and identity and being lost and reliant on a new system contributes to a sense of despair and perceived lack of dignity. Our goal of support is even more relevant and important when we take into consideration the families dealing with the new dynamic and challenge to their traditional family structures as a result of material reliance on their new host country. In terms of joy and hope, we believe - particularly in the case of Phoenix Fellows who choose an entrepreneurial path - that creating a business can be a source of joy and hope. While one of our objectives is to advocate for changes in labor and hiring policies with respect to migrants in Cyprus (and other countries as we grow), this policy advocacy can only be done based upon effective action-oriented work. Our Fellows must demonstrate clearly the potential and the real contributions of the migrate community in Cyprus, and their power to be not only individual contributors to a vibrant society, but also as natural catalysts for economic growth. We focus on the potential of the individual with an eye towards social impact on a greater level.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Our pilot project is in Cyprus, because it is a great example of how difficult it is for newcomers to find a place in their new society and how important it is to open up networks for them. Cyprus is on the "fringes" of Europe. Apart from its own economic difficulties, it has been on the frontline of the refugee crisis, but is not equipped to deal with real integration. As soon as we have proven our case there, we will expand to other countries on the fringes of Europe such as Greece and Italy.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

We focus upon fostering relationships between Project Phoenix Fellows and local community leaders and business people as well as creating international bridges and broad professional and vocational contacts with our network beyond Cyprus. Opening our networks and offering the social capital of Project Phoenix’s board and advisory group is the major non-material part of our support that we believe is of equal or greater importance than direct material contributions to the success of our Fellows.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Unless one has experienced the loss of a home and identity, it is difficult to imagine the existential challenges - not to mention the psychological trauma - often experienced by our Fellows. Our project seeks to contribute to the notion that those of us with resources - social, material, or other influence, can and should use them for those who have come to Europe by no choice of their own. We wish to indirectly demonstrate the mutual obligations that we have to one another and for all of us to see not only how our countries are involved in creating, but also how people are key to solving humanitarian crises through opening our doors and building up those who have come. The complex of needs that Project Phoenix solves is economic: benefitting both newcomers and host communities; and social: fostering and deepening interpersonal ties through working together. These two needs come together to contribute to a more tolerant, educated and prosperous society.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Sustainable change takes time to implement, but step by step newcomers will feel more empowered to showcase their talents and skills, companies will be more ready to consider newcomers for job vacancies and the relationship between the newcomer and the local community will have improved due to mutual understanding and partnerships. Government will have implemented solutions to assist newcomers in accessing local networks and support local businesses in hiring and training.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

People who are on the move can often be defined by one thing: the search for a better life. Whether it is fleeing from war, natural disaster, persecution or poverty, they are all looking for a place where they can develop themselves. Many of those who come to Europe are talented, ambitious and skilled people who can contribute significantly to the host nation's labor market, economy and social fabric. We want to work in those communities where the talent and potential of newcomers are not yet appreciated, and where opportunities for newcomers are scarce. We want to demonstrate to the local community and to businesses that those newcomers can not only integrate, but can help grow the economy and be good for business, if only they are employed well or given the opportunities to reach their full potential.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

We have identified four main stakeholders (communities) for our pilot project in Cyprus: newcomers (migrant, refugee, asylum seeker), business sector, government (local and European) and CSOs. Although newcomers are the main focus community, we aim to take this community out of isolation and connect it with aforementioned other communities. Not only do we connect one community to another, but we connect all of them between each other, creating a mutually dependent structure where bridges are being built between all communities. This is very important in a rather traditional society such as Cyprus, because the existing local communities are very close-knit and aren’t always welcoming to newcomers. By creating mutually beneficial networks, we can open these traditional communities to be more welcoming to newcomers. An example of this would be Charles (not his real name) who is an asylum seeker who is not allowed to work in his field of expertise, programming and development. By involving

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

We work closely with selected Project Phoenix Fellows to ensure that they drive the process and that their values and aspirations are deeply embedded in their program. Our Fellows are invited to participate in our program based upon knowing - and getting to know them - personally and professionally. We celebrate the skills that our partners have, and we seek to build upon their existing professional knowledge in ways that celebrate their lives and their aspirations. An example of this is the business that one of our fellows, Ayesha, is developing. She is by trade a seamstress, and is now training and partnering with a local mentor in Cyprus as well as a Spain-based refugee and fashion designer from Libya to create a new line of bags and clothes from recycled materials. We then involve the community to market, sell and promote her products. Hopefully this will allow her to move out of the refugee camp and sell her work on the local and international market.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

We are working together with several organizations in Cyprus, such as CyprusInno (an organization supporting peace efforts through training and networking for entrepreneurs), Cyprus Refugee Council, Caritas, and several other smaller grassroots initiatives and individuals. Furthermore, we are working with local businesses and recruitment companies to promote the idea of employing and supporting newcomers. We are looking to collaborate with UNHCR and UNICEF in the near future on this project.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Project Phoenix

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Project Phoenix was conceived by two friends wanting to work directly with migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who are trying to make a new life for themselves in Europe. Co-founded by Michael Goecken, Executive Director, and Jennifer Gaspar, Board President, it is registered as an international non-profit in Belgium. We have an executive board of three members and a growing international advisory board of currently 12 members. This idea of the Project has been nurtured and developed over the last two years, based upon in-depth research into existing services for asylum seekers/refugees in Europe with respect to economic development and business incubation. We commissioned academic research to understand gaps in the services sector to understand where the Project could be of most value and have the greatest impact. From our interviews and research it was clear that this would be on the "fringes" of Europe where services are at a minimum - both from host governments and the NGO sector

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

Belgium Spain Cyprus

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Antwerp Barcelona Nicosia


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Photo of Jennifer Piwonski

Great design and very important work!

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