Innocent Havyarimana: A story of hope and soap at Kakuma Refugee Camp

By Elkin Hoyos
June 27, 2024
Innocent Havyarimana, a Burundian businessman who makes soap, holds a bottle of freshly-made hand sanitiser, which he sells to fellow refugees, aid workers and Kenyans in Kakuma camp, Kenya. © UNHCR/Samuel Otieno

“I want to show that refugees can sustain themselves and not always wait for support from the UN. Through doing business, any refugee can be self-reliant.”

These words, spoken by Innocent Havyarimana, echo through the Kakuma Refugee Camp, where the scent of freshly made soap fills the air.

Forced to flee his home in 2013 due to severe political unrest and human rights abuses, Havyarimana found refuge in Kakuma, one of the world’s largest refugee camps. For him, Kakuma would become more than a haven; it would be a launchpad for change.

The Birth of GLAP Enterprises

In 2015, with just 1,000 Kenyan Shillings (about $7 USD) and a small loan of 50,000 Shillings (about $350 USD), Havyarimana founded GLAP Enterprises, which stands for God Loves All People. His mission was threefold: to provide affordable soap to the community, create jobs, and demonstrate that refugees can be self-reliant.

Today, GLAP Enterprises is a cornerstone of the local economy, producing and selling 16 types of soap and employing 44 people. The initial loan was paid off early, and the company is self-sustained through sales revenue.

Inclusive Capitalism in Action

Havyarimana’s approach embodies the principles of inclusive capitalism, which seeks to create a more equitable and sustainable economic system by incorporating the contributions of all stakeholders. His commitment to gender equality is evident in his workforce:

“Currently, I have employed 44 employees, among those, 28 are females,” he proudly states.

The impact of GLAP Enterprises extends beyond employment and gender equity. During the coronavirus pandemic, Havyarimana lowered prices and offered smaller quantities of soap, prioritizing community health over profits.

women employees of glap enterprise fill bottles with soap at kakuma refugee camp
Women employees of Innocent Havyarimana’s GLAP Enterprises apply labels to hand sanitizer at Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya.

Challenges of an SME in a Refugee Camp

Running a business in a sub-Saharan refugee camp presents unique obstacles. “Many people need the soap, but because I do not have enough water to produce the soap, I’m not able to supply as needed,” Havyarimana explains. The arid climate of Kakuma makes water a precious resource, and securing a reliable local supply remains a constant struggle. Havyarimana’s dreams of expansion, which include digging a borehole for water and opening a branch in the Dadaab refugee camp, are hindered by a lack of capital.

According to the International Finance Corporation, about 43 percent of formal SMEs in developing countries have an unmet financing need. In an article published on the World Economic Forum blog, Simone Cooper notes, “A lack of infrastructure isolates SMEs from markets, opportunities, and access to capital.” This is a barrier to growth Havyarimana knows well as he seeks to obtain the necessary certifications to export his soap internationally. Overcoming these barriers is crucial for the development of businesses like GLAP Enterprises and—for Havyarimana—demonstrating that refugee-led businesses can compete globally.

A Call for Support

Innocent Havyarimana’s story is a powerful testament to the potential of refugee entrepreneurship. Through GLAP Enterprises, he fosters community-wide economic growth, creates jobs, provides affordable self-care products, and demonstrates the potential for refugee self-reliance.

As we reflect on Havyarimana’s journey, it’s clear that with the right support, refugees can be vital contributors to local and global economies. His success challenges us to rethink our approach to refugee assistance, moving from aid dependency to empowerment through entrepreneurship.

The soap bubbles rising from GLAP Enterprises carry more than just cleansing properties; they bear the hopes and dreams of a community striving for self-sufficiency. As Havyarimana continues to build his business, he remains grateful for any support that can help realize his vision of a brighter, self-sufficient future for refugees.

Last Thoughts

As members of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism community, as leaders, and as human beings, we must ask ourselves: What can we do to support more entrepreneurs like Havyarimana? How can we create an environment where refugee-led businesses can thrive?

The answers to these questions may well shape the future of global economic inclusion.

To learn more about Innocent Havyarimana’s work and support his mission, connect with him on LinkedIn. By building a network of supporters, we can help amplify his efforts and contribute to the success of refugee-led businesses.


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