British billionaire and philanthropist Richard Branson was in Dubai this week to support the launch of Made51 products in The Dubai Mall's Virgin Megastore.
A brand created by the United Nations Refugee Agency, Made51 offers home decor and accessories made by refugee artisans from 15 countries.
These include: cushion seats upcycled from signboards and waste materials from Beirut's port, transformed by Syrian refugees living in Lebanon; cushion covers and runners embroidered by Afghan refugees living in Pakistan; plaited storage baskets made using coil by Burundian refugees living in Rwanda; and handmade jewellery inspired by Middle Eastern tile designs and Burmese landscapes, made by refugee artisans living in Malaysia.
The Made 51 website also lists as "coming soon" lampshades made from local grasses, organic cotton, natural dyes and hammered bronze by Malian refugees living in Burkina Faso, among several other products.
“Millions and millions and millions of people [are] displaced, and what they don’t have is the dignity of work … the dignity of pretty well anything. It’s wonderful that the Virgin team have given some space to sell their products," Branson said at the Dubai launch. Virgin Megastore is the first UNHCR partner to stock Made51 products, which cost less than Dh300.
Branson also read out first-hand accounts of some refugees supported by the programme, which he says "brought home why this project to support refugee entrepreneurs is so important".
Made51 works with 22 social enterprises in 15 countries. Through the scheme, refugees can achieve financial independence and retain their skills and heritage. “Only with a genuine demand for refugee artisans’ products, and access to markets, will we enable these skilled refugees to earn a livelihood," said Dominique Hyde, director of external relations at UNHCR.
"The products are beautiful, and we cannot wait for our customers to come discover them and the stories behind them,” added Marwan Hert, president, Virgin Megastore Mena.