Founder interview – excerpt from our book Startup Migrants

In 2019 we published our book Startup Migrants. For this book, we interviewed migrant founders all over the world. Of these founders is Mazen “the Willy Wonker of Irbid”. Here is an excerpt from his story showing the differences between migrants and refugees in Jordan.

“Mazen is the Willy Wonka of Irbid. Originally from Syria, here located to Jordan five years ago and started a candy factory, producing typical Syrian sweets based on his family’s recipes passed to him decades ago. He and Maya, whom we met earlier, both came to Jordan at the same time, yet their paths couldn’t be more different. While Maya applied for refugee status with her whole family and spent most of her time in camps waiting for her application to be processed, Mazen Obeido moved to Jordan as a migrant. (…) In Jordan, many are categorised between migrant and refugee. The main difference is that migrants have a residence permit that is renewed annually. It can be obtained via an employer, as an investor, or as a down payment in a bank, as an insurance for the government. Most people who fled Iraq and Syria are registered with UNHCR as ‘refugees.’ They can legally stay in the country, but they can’t work or leave and enter the country again. As a result, Mazen has more freedom than a refugee. (…)

We sit down in his low-ceilinged office in front of a dark wood executive’s desk, and we ask him the same question: ‘What’s the dream?’ Mazen answers right away: to expand his business to other countries. However, scaling up costs money – money to find and hire more people suited to the job, and acquiring premises for new shops in Amman. In the end, he adds that one of the biggest challenges is not how to scale the business, but the perception of him as an entrepreneur from Syria. ‘As soon as I say, where I come from, people assume I am a refugee. The stigma around it is tough at times, especially when I am creating new jobs for Jordan,’ he sighs.”

If you are interested in more stories, you can purchase the book “Startup Migrants on”

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