Anqa Collective is next in our Local Heroes series, where we big up the people, small businesses and neighbourhood spots that make London great. Anqa is the first marketplace for refugee-led businesses in Europe, selling a range of products and experiences from refugee entrepreneurs.

Anqa is an offshoot from TERN (The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network), a social enterprise that provides business support to refugee entrepreneurs, including help accessing and building a network of customers. As Isobelle Ford, Community Manager at TERN and one of the project leads at Anqa, explains, “We held a pop up shop in December 2019 with 7 entrepreneurs from the TERN community selling their products and we were blown away with the interest and positive feedback we received. This demonstrated that there were customers looking to buy from refugee-led businesses and Anqa was launched in July 2020 to connect refugee founders to these customers”. Now there’s everything from Nigerian chilli sauce and fairtrade coffee to handmade lingerie and beauty services available to shop on the site.

The impact of shopping local and supporting small businesses is massive for the people that own and run them but the significance becomes even greater with a refugee-led business. There’s a common misconception that once someone has received refugee status here that everything is easy but that’s not the case. “Studies have shown that disadvantages in the labour market and in terms of social and financial well-being persist for refugees for a significant length of time after their arrival here,” says Isobelle. “I think we underestimate what they can contribute to and change within the communities they join. The more visibility we give to the achievements of these individuals and the more we create platforms for them to share their own ideas, the more we can change negative narratives around forced migration”.

Shopping from Anqa is about connecting with the person behind the product as well as actually buying the thing. When a seller wants to join the marketplace, “an important part of the process is working with the entrepreneur to create their profile page, which is where they can choose how to tell their story as both a founder and a refugee,” explains Isobelle. “Anqa is as much about storytelling as it is sales, and we hope our customers enjoy reading more about these amazing individuals”.

Of course purchasing products directly supports these entrepreneurs and helps to grow their business, and it really does make a difference. “Anqa is currently a small community of entrepreneurs who love supporting each other, and so when someone gets their first order they share the news on our WhatsApp group and we all celebrate together,” says Isobelle.

The Anqa community may be small at the moment but the team has big plans for growth this year. “We want to bring another 20 brands onto the site in 2021, and we’re also looking to expand overseas. In terms of events, hopefully, we can host in-person markets and pop-ups and get to meet our customers face to face. In June we’re also looking to unveil an exciting project in partnership with Refugee Week,” says Isobelle.

If that’s got you inspired to make even more a difference, Isobelle recommends supporting and sharing initiatives like Lift The Ban and volunteering with organisations like TERN and Refugees at Home. She’s also giving a shout out to “Breadwinners, who run a refugee employment programme and sell delicious bread at markets across London/online and the Bike Project, where you can buy restored second-hand bikes and support their project donating bikes to refugees.”