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Nothing embodies the American spirit quite like entrepreneurship. Like America, entrepreneurship thrives on hard work, perseverance, optimism, and an unyielding capacity for renewal. It is because of these qualities that people from around the world dream of a life in America as an independent business owner with the freedom and opportunity to control their own destiny.

The Massachusetts Immigrant Entrepreneurship Month proclamation is held up by Josiane Martinez, executive director of the Office for Refugees and Immigrants, right. From left are Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, Rep. Daniel Cullinane, Gov. Deval Patrick, Rep. Tackey Chan and State Senator Eileen Donoghue. (Photo courtesy of The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc.)

For the past four years, the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI) has helped to fulfill the entrepreneurial dreams of newly arrived refugees through its Massachusetts Refugee Enterprise Achievement Program (MassREAP). Although refugees are often forced to flee their home country with little more than the clothes on their back, what they are able to carry is a wealth of prior business experience and expertise. MassREAP helps refugees tap into their entrepreneurial know-how through business planning, financial planning, marketing strategy, ongoing technical assistance, and access to credit. Through no fault of their own, refugee entrepreneurs are often barred from traditional lending institutions as they lack credit history and sufficient financial capital. MassREAP bridges this gap and in doing so unlocks what would otherwise be lost economic growth and potential.

Since its inception, MassREAP has helped to launch more than 90 businesses, expand more than 20 businesses, and stabilize more than 60 businesses. In addition to benefitting the owners of these small businesses, through their success, dozens of jobs have been created for residents of the Commonwealth.  To ensure that MassREAP reaches the largest constituency possible, ORI partners with Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in Worcester and West Springfield and Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) in Boston. Together, ORI, LSS, and JVS have worked with communities from more than 30 different countries and provided small loans to more than 75 unique individuals. These entrepreneurs have gone on to start successful businesses in retail, manufacturing, the service industry, and consulting- often providing invaluable resources to otherwise underserved populations.

While there are many businesses that typify the achievement of the refugees that take part in MassREAP, the Baghdad Bakery and Market is an exemplary case study. Its proprietor, Dheyaa Habeeb was forced to flee Iraq in 2008 with his wife and four children. After living as a refugee in Turkey for one year, Dheyaa and his family arrived in West Springfield, MA in 2009 with the dream of opening a bakery. Without the credit or capital to start the business on his own, Dheyaa applied for MassREAP with Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in West Springfield. MassREAP assisted Dheyaa in writing his business plan, developing a cash flow projection, and accessing holistic technical assistance for obtaining all of the necessary permits, inspections, and applications. Additionally, Dheyaa obtained a $3,000 start-up microloan from LSS to help get his business off the ground.

Today, the Baghdad Bakery and Market has expanded from its beginnings in bread and basic retail to include butcher services and a van to distribute their products. Dheyaa has fully paid off his initial loan and helped his family to become economically self-sufficient. But Dheyaa’s success is not just his own, Dheyaa has also been able to employ two members of his new community. As Dheyaa continues to grow and expand his business, he hopes to be able to open a pastry shop and buy his first family home in America.

You can try Dheyaa’s delicious bread at 464 Main Street, West Springfield, MA.

Written By:


Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI)

Communications Director, Executive Office of Health and Human Services

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