Small businesses are important for the city

Sofia en Tania

Business students Sofia Ali (24) and Tania Bhulai (28) set up a social enterprise designed help refugees acclimatise to life at Erasmus University Rotterdam. They also offer aid to lowereducated entrepreneurs in setting up small businesses.

TEXT: Pauline Bijster
PHOTO’S: © Claudia Broekhoff

If you don’t get it

The founders of Diandre know what it feels like to be somewhere where you really want to get ahead but you don’t quite understand what’s happening. Sofia Ali’s family is from Somalia. They fled to Ethopia, which is where Sofia was born. When the situation didn’t improve they came to the Netherlands. Tania Bhulai was born in Suriname and has been living in the Netherlands since 2008. She says: ‘It’s easier, knowing the language. But still the Netherlands is different to Suriname.’ This is why the two set up Diandra last year: they wanted to help refugees at the university in getting the information they needed. How can a dean or a study advisor help you? How you get an internship? How to write a good letter in Dutch?

Small businesses

Last year Diandre expanded. Whereas at first the enterprise focused mostly on showing the way around the university, a market research has convinced them to expand to include lower-educated people and small businesses. Tania Bhulai says: ‘The municipality helps refugees with setting up a business plan, but they don’t ‘Small businesses are important for the city’ Business students Sofia Ali (24) and Tania Bhulai (28) set up a social enterprise designed help refugees acclimatise to life at Erasmus University Rotterdam. They also offer aid to lowereducated entrepreneurs in setting up small businesses. have the means to help them beyond that point. That’s where Diandre steps in. This is where our major in Business is of good help. How do you go about marketing? How do you get a logo or a website? Sometimes the main focus is language.’ The goal is that students help people with residency status realise their business plan.’

Collaboration

They work in collaboration with the Municipality of Rotterdam. The municipality sends us participants, and they also give us pointers. This is also to their benefit: people get off welfare. And small businesses are good for the city,’ explains Bhulai. Before Diandre there was no such thing as an enterprise that helped small-business entrepreneurs like this. And while the debate around refugees can get heated at times, Bhulai and Ali are generally positive: ‘What we see is more and more organisations being set up that support refugees. It’s a good thing.’