Refugee Consulting Project: Global Impact in Phoenix

By Faduma-Dhool Mohamed, Guest Writer

There was no name for this exciting initiative when it was first presented. All I could think of was we need to get this started. Now. When the idea was first presented to me by Charles Reeves, TEM Lab’s Program Director and my mentor, we first thought of it as a chance to help these refugees with their presentation skills. But the more we talked about it, the more we realized that we could do much more with the resources that we have at Thunderbird.

The Refugee Consulting Project is a student-run initiative that kicked off in late February 2016. It started off as an opportunity for Thunderbird students to work with refugee business entrepreneurs from five different communities here in Arizona; it can’t get more global than that in Glendale!

It has been a whirlwind of brainstorming and executing ideas. The whole journey has been the most exciting and fulfilling part of my time at Thunderbird. It is an unexplainable feeling when you know that you are part of something that is directly affecting people’s lives for the better. That to me, is priceless.

RCP started off with the help of the ASU School of Social Work team who made the introductions to the refugee communities and have continuously been instrumental in easing the process of communication between the clients and Thunderbird students.

Our main objective has been to help fill in the gap and assist the refugees through consulting on areas such as business planning, marketing research, pricing, business development, budgeting, financial literacy, social entrepreneurship, among others. The refugee communities we are working with constitute the following: Iraqi, Congolese, Somali, DRC and Bhutanese. In total, we are working with 6 different clients all with different business ideas and areas they need assistance with.


Regardless of the difference, it has been interesting to see that they all share a common goal: they want to sustain themselves as well as help their community through their business. And enabling such ambitious social entrepreneurs, has been very rewarding.

The Somali American United Council (SAUC) are working on a women empowerment program where the Somali women can sell their sewing products which will enable them to become financially independent and empowered to support their families.

Jeff Karlick (MBA’16, USA) has this to say from working with the Somali community:“At our first meeting with the Somali American United Council, they offered our team Sambusas and traditional Somali tea. They have been extremely gracious throughout the project, and our team is appreciative for having the opportunity to assist such wonderful people.”

 Yaser Baafif (MGM’16, Saudi Arabia) who’s working with the Iraqi community, believes that this project helped him understand that a business can make money and still have a positive impact on the society. “The Iraqi group and ASU Social Work interns were so happy having us with them and they are really in need of basic business knowledge. This project helped me understand other cultures and norms. For example, the child care center is designed for refugees so we had to understand the different customer norms in order to help with their business plan.”

Said Brett Balling (MA’17, USA), “I would say that the RCP has been an exciting challenge, but I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in a long-term, real-world project for the rest of my time at Thunderbird. It is going to teach me things that I can’t learn in a controlled environment like a classroom.”

Currently there are 6 Tbird teams, with a total of 26 students involved. A briefing event was held last week where each team had an opportunity to share their progress and the challenges that they have faced so far with the rest of their colleagues and a few faculty members. We had the honor of receiving valuable and constructive feedback from Thunderbird faculty members Charles Reeves, Prof. Tom Hunsaker, Kellie Kreiser, Prof. Mary Sully de Luque, and the Program Director of the ASU Global Social Work, Professor Barbara Klimek.

Jorge Cespedes Flores (MBA’16, Peru) wrapped everything up nicely: “We have the opportunity to put into action what we learn in graduate classes, but more importantly, to contribute for the good of refugees in the US who just need appropriate business tools to execute innovative ideas that provide welfare to them. Congolese refugees in Arizona will have, thanks to Horizons and Thunderbird, an actionable business plan conceived in essence by them, but with the solid foundations that one of the most reputed international business schools in the world can provide. It has been a pleasure to work with outstanding professionals and it has been even most rewarding to know that we all together can support a beautiful mission.”

For more information, or to find out how to get involved in the Fall Semester, Faduma can be reached at


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