Of the 65 million refugees worldwide who have been displaced due to conflict or persecution, the UK has accepted approximately 119,000. Over 40 percent of those refugees are unemployed, with nearly 20 percent arriving alone without any friends or family.
That’s what inspired us to launch NEMI, a social business that empowers refugees in dealing with UK employers and provides them with a sense of integration into their new homes through employment opportunities.
Through in-depth interviews with refugees and experts at the Refugee Council, we began to understand the main issues refugees face after obtaining the right to live and work in the UK. These conversations highlighted three primary shortcomings in refugees’ access to opportunity: the struggle to find their first job; low confidence due to weak English language ability; and gaps in education and skills required to enter the UK job market
NEMI was incorporated in October 2015 to use the power of business to tackle those shortcomings. NEMI is a London-based tea company offering a variety of whole leaf tea blends as loose-leaf and biodegradable tea pyramids along with a Chai Syrup for chai lattes, iced teas and chai cocktails. We currently sell our products through both retail and wholesale channels and are looking to expand in to the food service space.
Our business model is specifically tackling the following key social and environmental issues:
We provide local employment for refugees to run our tea stalls across food markets, festivals and conference across the UK as well as to perform business-related tasks within the business. This allows them to surmount a barrier – lack of local work experience – that often prevents them from securing a job of their choice.
We want refugees to be financially stable, and pay a wage above the National Living Wage for their work with us rather than the typical unpaid / below minimum wage positions they usually get.
We support the Fairtrade movement through our purchase of tea from the Fairtrade-certified Borengajuli tea estate in Assam, India. This helps the tea farmers secure improved working conditions and receive better training in effective and sustainable farming techniques – creating a better livelihood for themselves and their communities.
Running of the tea stalls allows refugees to learn new skills, engage with local community members, market vendors, and surrounding businesses.
Healthy local economies
Our tea is currently stocked and our story is being shared across 20+ cafes in the UK and growing by the day! We also support other UK-based businesses through our purchase of raw materials. We believe in buying locally rather than sourcing much lower unit costs from abroad. Finally, we run tea stalls at fundraising events of local charities, refugee bodies, and other community groups and donate all profits to our local partner agencies.
Going forward, we aim to create a ‘social franchise’ model where we train the refugees in running tea stalls and then over time give them an opportunity to own the business thus promoting entrepreneurship amongst the refugee communities through London, then across the U.K. and the rest of Europe. The long-term goal for following this model is because we believe ownership is much more empowering than providing employment.
NEMI has plenty of goals for its future too. While we work toward lowering the unemployment rate for refugees until it mirrors the national unemployment numbers of less than 5%, we are also striving to build a solid business. Our goal is to become the premier supplier of specialist loose-leaf tea blends for cafes, restaurants, hotels and more, all over the world.
Pranav Chopra is the CEO of NEMI