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Interviewing FORGE Founder: 70,000 Refugees Revitalizing African Communities

Daniel Epstein February 4, 2010

By the end of 2006, over 9.4 million Africans have been displaced by war. These refugees often seek asylum in temporary settlements erected by the international community to find food. But on a trip to Dukwi Refugee Camp in Botswana, then 20-year old Kjerstin Erickson discovered that instead of passing through camps for 3-4 weeks and obtaining what they need to rebuild their lives, many refugees remain stuck in camps for between 15-30 years. “Whole generations of people lost everything in their lives, were stuck in a camp, couldn’t leave, couldn’t work, couldn’t access more than a 5th grade education, and were really being punished for the fact that they had chosen peace over war,” she explains. “This was such an obvious tragedy to me but also one with such an obvious solution: those who do choose peace over war should actually be empowered through that decision and through that choice to build better lives. Refugees could be a piece of the solution to how a country will rebuild after its been torn apart by conflict.” It was exactly this insight that prompted Kjerstin to launch FORGE, an organization enabling African refugees themselves to reconstruct their post-conflict communities, in 2003.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to share several conversations with Kjerstin and have always been deeply inspired by her relentless dedication to FORGE. Heck, she dropped out of Stanford her junior year to devote herself full-time (and then some) to the organization. We consider it a tremendous honor that she is a mentor at the Unreasonable Institute and every chance I have to speak with her is one in which I learn so much about not only the struggles that African refugees face, but also about what it means to be a truly good human being. That’s why I’m sharing the 10-minute Skype conversation we had with the world just below. Check it out!

Video Interview Table of Contents:

  1. What is FORGE in 30 seconds? (0:01-0:32)
  2. How does FORGE measure its impact? (0:33-4:23)
  3. What has been the key to reaching over 70,000 refugees? (4:24-6:00)
  4. How do you overcome power differentials with refugees in order to have honest conversations? (6:01-8:16)
  5. What advice do you have for aspiring social entrepreneurs? (8:17-9:50)

Our most sincere thanks goes to Kjerstin Erickson for taking the time to share her insights and her story with us! To learn more about FORGE, visit www.forgenow.org.

written by: Teju Ravilochan (Unreasonable Institute)

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