The WDCD Refugee Challenge update 2: Makers Unite

‘We are on track to become a healthy social enterprise’

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Published in Refugee Challenge by

While all our focus is on climate change these days, we haven’t forgot our five finalists of last year’s WDCD Refugee Challenge set up together with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and IKEA Foundation. Hence a series of updates, this time on Makers Unite.

‘Now that the social inclusion part of Makers Unite is working well, the challenge is now to develop our sales and turn this project into an independent social enterprise,’ says Thami Schweichler, director and co-founder of Makers Unite. Following the refugee crisis which unfolded in 2015, Makers Unite developed an effective social inclusion programme based on creating sustainable products together.

Through the development and production of bags and laptop sleeves made from discarded life vests, Makers Unite connects newcomers and local makers to real opportunities. At the core of the activities are six-week social inclusion programmes, the fourth edition of which is upcoming, beginning with two open sessions on 20 and 22 September. Creative newcomers – and anyone else who feels like it – is free to join in to hear what Makers Unite has to offer.


Laptop Sleeve 13″ – MU Collection

Full programme

That’s a lot. A year after being elected among the winners of the WDCD Refugee Challenge, Makers Unite has a full programme of activities, all focused on helping newcomers to the Netherlands find their way in their new surroundings. A workshop with Dutch fashion designer Bas Kosters last weekend preluded Makers Unite’s participation in Manifeest at the Volkshotel in Amsterdam on 23 September. With Kosters suits were co-created for a peace parade at the event.

Together with KunstFaam the organisation offers two Artist in Residence weeks for newcomers on the island of Schiermonnikoog from 22-29 September and from 30 October to 6 November. Also upcoming is Crafts Council at Dutch Design Week (21-29 October) where newcomers & Dutch designers will show the importance of crafts and its making process. For this presentation Makers Unite is currently working together with ceramics company Cor Unum, blending ancient Syrian crafts with innovative Dutch crafts.

In the meantime, Makers Unite is collaborating with fashion designer Karim Adduchi in preparation of his new collection to be shown in November. Makers were part of a Political Catwalk during the past Amsterdam Fashion Week 

Expanding to all newcomers

With all these activities in place, it is time for a next step, Schweichler tells. ‘We are currently investigating how we can broaden our scope from creative newcomers alone to any type of newcomers. We are thinking of providing a programme that uses design thinking and creative processes to help newcomers overcome the personal challenges they encounter in the fields of government, culture, career and language. We want to provide them with what we call the “creative confidence” to deal with all these questions.”

By teaming up with HelpU, a sharing platform that connects locals and newcomers in all their needs and requests, Makers Unite provides yet another possibility for locals and newcomers to get in touch.


Participants of the Makers Unite Program, Makers Unite 2017

New products

Meanwhile, Makers Unite is aiming to become gradually less dependent of grants. Schweichler: ‘Our sales are increasing, we sell products in the US and all over the world. But we will now turn our focus towards increasing the percentage of product sales in our finance. So we are looking into the development of our communications, sales and marketing, while we are exploring the development of new products from reused materials. Up to now the life vests have been a very strong symbol for what we do, but now that our enterprise starts to become known, we reach a point where we can expand our range. Basically, our challenge is to make Makers Unite a healthy and viable social enterprise. Everyone who wants to join to make that happen is welcome.”

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