John Kluge, 35, founder and managing director for the Refugee Investment Network or the RIN, created this matchmaking service between impact investors and impact actors in the refugee space with a key group of people in mind: the 70 million refugees and internally displaced people in the world.
With refugees spending an average of 26 years in camps, he says, this is a global crisis that is growing. Millions of refugees were born in camps and have never lived anywhere else. Without a change in current trends, the number of refugees globally could approach the current population of the United States by 2030.
“If you’re displaced for decades and you are not allowed to work and not allowed to move freely (as is the case for millions of refugees and displaced people around the world), you are not living. You are surviving,” Kluge says, noting that he sees this as a social justice issue.
Refugees are usually prevented by their status from enjoying the rights and privileges of citizens. They lack permission to work and sometimes even to start a business. Hoping to help advance a shift at scale, “The RIN works to bridge the gap between an increasing number of investors interested in refugee investments and the growing ecosystem of refugee entrepreneurs and ventures,” Kluge says.
Launched in 2018, the RIN, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, operates on a combination of grants and fee-for-service revenue associated with its matchmaking services. The organization is not a registered broker-dealer and does not direct investments for investors; instead, it’s working to help investors find projects and opportunities that are a good fit for their impact goals and investment strategies. “I think that there are specific funds and partners in financial services or large multilateral institutions, development finance institutions in particular, who are looking for more hands-on support in structuring new products or new funds that would support forcibly displaced people,” Kluge says. “That’s a service that we can provide for a fee.”
The investments being made in refugees have a measurable impact but also have demonstrated attractive financial returns, he says. For example, he says two Liberian refugees in New York in the 90s started a soap business just to earn a living. Their business was built around shea butter imported from Liberia and ultimately built a large workforce there. When Unilever acquired the business called Sundial Brands in 2017, it had revenue of approximately $240 million.