Arizona refugees get a hand in trying to establish homegrown businesses

September 24, 2015

It might be a delicious bit of fish from Lake Tanganyika, or a colorful, flowing Dashiki shirt.

For people who have been uprooted from their homelands, tiny familiarities like these can be powerful ties to a culture they’re working to sustain. Olga Lucia Parga, left, and Madeline Bosma Olga Lucia Parga (left) assists Madeline Bosma (right) on her proposal as part of her business proposal representing "Sewing a Better Future," for the Bhutanese Mutual Assistance Association of Tucson during the Social Entrepreneurship Expo as a part of the Social Entrepreneurship Integration Project at the Refugee Focus building in central Phoenix on Sept. 22. ASU's School of Social Work helped organize the Social Entrepreneurship Integration Project to create a unique program that educates and develops social entrepreneurs in Arizona's refugee communities. Photo by: Deanna Dent/ASU News Download Full Image

And that’s why a group of refugees in Arizona is trying to turn food, clothing and other native touchstones into businesses that will help them thrive here.

A team from Arizona State University’s Office of Global Social Work has been helping them succeed.

Last week, six refugee groups made entrepreneurial pitches to potential investors. They proposed small start-ups including a day-care center, a tailoring shop, a transportation service, a cultural event-planning business and shops that would sell ethnic food and clothing.

“There is a fish that is found only in Lake Tanganyika,” said Sadiki Elmady of the Congo Democratic Community of Arizona. He was pitching an “African Market Center” for the West Valley.

“Those fish are very delicious. We would like people in Arizona to taste that African fish.”

The new businesses will provide goods and services needed by the refugee communities, and the profits they generate will fund the refugee groups’ work in resettling newcomers.

Barbara Klimek is director of ASU’s Office of Global Social Work, part of the School of Social Work. She led a team of undergraduate and graduate students in the social-entrepreneurship project, in which they worked to give technical assistance to the groups as they created their proposals.

“These organizations decided to start looking not at federal funding but at creating businesses that are social-oriented, helping their countrymen and anybody who needs social services,” said Klimek, who is also a clinical associate professor at ASU.

David Androff, associate director of the Office of Global Social Work, said that over the past few years, the team realized that what the groups really need is money. So the entrepreneur project has been the focus for the past year.

“They don’t want to be seen as dependent, weak refugees, which makes them seem disempowered,” said Androff, who is also an associate professor.

“They want to be integrated into society.”

The issues of resettlement

Globally, the plight of refugees has become an urgent issue in recent months as Middle Eastern refugees have been flowing into neighboring European countries, hoping for asylum.

Civil war and terrorism have displaced millions of people – including more than 4 million from Syria, alone, since 2011. The European Union has grappled with how to absorb the masses of migrants who are streaming across borders in search of peace.

Last month, the United States agreed to accept more refugees, lifting the cap of 70,000 that has been in place for three years. The U.S. will take 100,000 refugees by 2017.

Arizona took in about 3,800 refugees from 41 countries last year. About 30 percent came from Iraq, with hundreds more from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cuba.

Klimek said that the model for refugee resettlement in the United States emphasizes jobs and self-reliance and newcomers can get assistance for up to five years. That’s different from the European method, which offers health and language help for a year, she said.

“After that, there is nothing that would provide them with any opportunity for getting jobs or for starting a business. They are on their own.

“This is why Europe and many countries are so reluctant to accept refugees – because it becomes a burden.”

ASU’s Office of Global Social Work is hoping to live up to its name. The team has submitted a proposal to partner with other universities to train refugee advocates in Europe as they deal with the influx of immigrants.

“We can be part of the conversation because of our work at the local level, and we want to do that on an international level as well,” Klimek said.

In Arizona, the ASU office recently helped refugee groups consolidate their power by forming a brand-new umbrella consortium called New American Community that will work with aid agencies.

“It’s obvious that they are more powerful in terms of what they can do if they work together,” Klimek said.

Androff said that while refugees are encouraged to find work as soon as they arrive in America, they often end up in minimum-wage jobs because of language and cultural barriers. The new businesses can take advantage of skills they already have, such as tailoring.

“That’s not a way to build a future in society,” he said.

“Their human capital is being wasted. They have skills, but they just can’t translate them when they get here.”

American dreams inspired by homelands

At the pitch meeting, the aspiring entrepreneurs stood before a room full of potential investors. A few were tentative, but all of them were enthusiastic about their projects.

“I’m a little nervous,” said Amit Mahat as she flipped through her index cards before pitching an event-planning business on behalf of Horizons for Refugee Families in Tucson.

“The ‘African Sunset’ package would provide food, music, décor and servers,” she said, noting that the business would be called Suva, which means “good” or “happy” in Nepalese.

The groups had a practice pitch session in May, and the ASU team spent the summer helping them refine their projects. They especially needed to work on the business details, Androff said.

“They’re really high on passion and community value. There’s a lot of interesting cultural stuff. But the actual technical details of ‘how are you going to make a profit at that’ are less clear.”

Madeline Bosma twirled around in pink high heels as she described “Sewing A Better Future,” the tailoring shop and women’s clothing retailer proposed by the Bhutanese Mutual Assistance Association of Tucson.

“Our designers will use Bhutan as their inspiration,” she said, showing off her brilliant blue jacket. A metallic polka-dotted scarf was draped on one shoulder.

Bosma said the association considered the number of tailoring shops that already exist in Tucson and how much profit they earn when calculating the rate at which it could repay an investment of $242,705.

All of the clothing will be labeled as being made by refugees in America, she said.

“People will know it’s American made and not something they bought in China.”

Mary Beth Faller

reporter, ASU Now


Made in the shade: ASU team crunches data on how best to cool urban areas

September 25, 2015

It’s debatable what can kill you faster in an Arizona summer: the sun or the electric bill.

Anyone owning a home can recite the litany of summer woes. The dawn patrol to cut the lawn before the really bad heat hits. The power bill the size of a BMW payment. The neighborhood stroll abbreviated by solar assault. Southern live oak on Katy Mall in Tempe It's common sense that the shade provided by trees — such as this Southern live oak on ASU's Tempe campus — and other structures help make an environment more comfortable. But how much shade is needed, and what surface materials can help? An ASU team has measured for the first time precisely how much cooler different elements can make an environment. Photo by: Charlie Leight/ASU News Download Full Image

Anything that lives knows the answer to all of that is shade. From fish to people, getting out from under the solar blast is the key to comfort.

ASU studies on microclimates and urban climate have measured for the first time precisely how much cooler different elements can make an environment — information highly useful to architects and urban planners.

“The reason you would want those detailed numbers is if you’re doing design work in an urban area,” said Ben Ruddell, associate professor in the Polytechnic School, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Ruddell and his colleagues have worked on several studies on shade and urban climate. “In the past that design work has not been evidence-based, but now we can tell you exactly what the effect is going to be on that microclimate.”

Trees or sails? Grass, gravel or concrete?

“Name your materials and we can give you the numbers,” he said.  “We now have the data to tell them exactly what techniques to use. … We’ve got the data; we’re open for business. Give us a call.”

Shading helps cool the landscape underneath it. It also helps reduce home energy use and create beneficial microclimates for growing different types of plants. The type of shade doesn’t matter much: trees, shade sails, ramadas and pavilions all have roughly the same effect, according to researchers.

“The main effect is keeping all that solar energy from impacting you or your house,” Ruddell said. “Shade is very effective at cooling off what’s underneath.”

If homeowners have an environment where they can keep the sun from hitting the house, they can save significantly on their energy bill, said Nancy Selover, research professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and state climatologist.

Shade structures, awnings, vine-covered trellises will all work. Rooftop solar panels will intercept the sun while air flows beneath them to cool the attic.

“It doesn’t just have to be a tree,” Selover said. “Whatever you can do to keep the sun from hitting the surface.”

How much shade is enough shade?

“If I have a 1-acre plot of land, what percentage do I need shaded?” Selover said. “Unfortunately, you need a large percentage of shade. If you only have a little bit shaded, it’s not going to be helpful.”

Ariane Middel, assistant research professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, is working on studies of how much trees affect human comfort.

“It’s pretty hot here, and summers are pretty miserable,” she said. “In terms of thermal comfort what’s even more important than temperature is the radiated environment. It’s the solar radiation that determines how comfortable you feel. We looked at the impact of trees on thermal comfort.”

Middel, Ruddell and three colleagues measured temperatures and heat stress in the sun and under five trees through four seasons in three typical Phoenix area neighborhood types: mesic (lawns and lush trees), xeric (desert landscaping), and oasis (a mix; think putting greens in gravel beds found in master-planned communities).

They found that naturally mesic neighborhoods are cooler because of the grass and trees. There was little difference between the xeric and oasis neighborhoods.

“The little grass patches didn’t make a difference,” she said.

Researchers found during the mid-afternoon heat being under a tree means being 8 degrees more comfortable than standing in the sun.

Homeowners should plant trees by the front porch or around seating areas in the back yard.

“If you’re going to plant trees, you want to plant them in locations where they make a difference — where people are,” Middel said.

There needs to be more shade in places where people are outside, said Ruddell, like business districts, around mass transit and over playgrounds.

Ruddell has a paper in review with a colleague from Texas Tech. One of the clearest findings is that shade plays a huge role in keeping playgrounds safe. Kids are more vulnerable to heat than adults are, and many playgrounds aren’t shaded.

“It needs much more attention than it’s getting,” he said. “We have taken readings in excess of (194 degrees Fahrenheit) on surfaces kids would play on and touch. To put that in perspective, that temperature is far in excess of the standard for factory workers to touch anything. … That’s hot enough to burn you, and certainly hot enough to make your uncomfortable.”

Homeowners should be reminded that Salt River Project will give free shade trees to qualifying homeowners.

“Planting trees on the south side of your house and the southwest side of your house will lower your energy bill,” he said.

Scott Seckel

Reporter, ASU Now