Who Can I Be?

by Christine Duhaime

Since we launched the concept of a Refugee Bank a year ago at the Digital Finance Institute to address financial inclusion for refugees, people have often asked: “Who are the refugees?” With 60 million refugees around the world, it can be challenging to identify just who refugees are. Let’s face it – they are many people from many different parts of the globe escaping for various reasons to a safer place in the world.

There’s another important question in the refugee debate that we think is just as important and that is: “Who can they be?”

Focussing on the question of “Who can they be?” allows us to view refugees through the lens we ought to be viewing them with – as individuals who have an equal promise of being tomorrow’s leaders as non-refugees have if we give them opportunities and financial support.

Improved refugee payments save lives

The key to providing opportunities and support for refugees is to improve the efficiency and delivery of refugee payments, to enable more refugees to buy food, pay for shelter and afford education for their children. We can save lives and educate a whole generation of children who can and will become prominent leaders.

Many prominent people were refugees


Many prominent members of our society were, at one time in their lives, refugees or had parents who were refugees. Instead of letting the experience control their lives, they made a decision to take charge of their future, becoming over-achievers and using their refugee experiences to rise to prominence. To them, the question: “Who can I be?” was answered with: “I can become anyone I want to become.”

For today’s refugees, they too can become anyone they want to become provided we enable them with improved payment systems that allow our donor dollars to reach them and to go much further than they currently do.

Famous Refugees


Aristotle Onassis is a prime example of a refugee who, given a chance, excelled on a massive scale. He was a child refugee at the age of 16 who became one of the richest and most impactful men in the world.

Kohn and Capa

Walter Kohn was a child refugee from Germany who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in chemistry. Robert Capa, was a child refugee from Hungary who went on to become the most renowned photojournalist of his time.

CEO of Coca Cola and Intel

There are thousands of other refugees who are success stories including Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, Albert Einstein, Nobel Laureate, Roberto Goizuetta, former CEO of Coca Cola, Andrew S. Grove, Chairman of Intel Corp. and Henry Kissinger, Former Secretary of State.

Maurice Sendak & Brundibar

Maurice Sendak, the renowned children’s book author and illustrator most known for his book “Where The Wild Things Are” had parents who fled to the United States. He was very much alive to and supportive of, the plight of refugees.

The children’s opera Brundibár, forcibly performed by refugee children at the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp nightly for “entertainment” during World War II, was re-produced and designed by Mr. Sendak in the United States years later to keep its story alive and honor the young refugee children at Theresienstadt who did not survive.

Holocaust survivor Ela Weissberger

Ela Weissberger, one of the original cast of children forced to perform Brundibár at Theresienstadt, was a child refugee at eleven who later immigrated to the United States. She devoted her life to educating people around the world about child refugees from the Holocaust.

Ms. Weissberger joined a historic performance of Brundibár to mark Yom Ha Shoah in Vancouver in 2008 with the Children’s Opera of the University of British Columbia. A member of that opera in Vancouver went on to become a key person, who with many others, helped make the Digital Finance Institute the success it is today, after singing on stage with Ms. Weissberger in Vancouver and learning of her journey as a child refugee.

Refugees can inspire us to do great things

I share that story to illustrate an important point about refugees we often forget; which is the powerful impact refugees can have on other people to marshall them to make positive changes in the world. So while not all refugees will become prominent and powerful members of society, they may inspire others to follow a path of greatness. One could say that Ms. Weissberger had a role to play in the concept of our Refugee Bank. 

Aylan Kurdi

In Canada, we are scarred by the story of Aylan Kurdi – the toddler who, with his family, wanted to be a refugee in Canada but was denied by Canadian immigration officials and later lost his life migrating to the EU. He lost his life partly because his family, lacking financial inclusion, migrated to the EU in the least expensive but most risky manner possible where their safety was at risk. They paid a terrible price for lack of financial inclusion.

We’ll never know how Aylan Kurdi would have excelled in life but surely something can be done to improve financial inclusion for refugees to ensure that the next Aylan Kurdi  survives to become the over-achiever he’s destined to become.

What can we do?

At the Digital Finance Institute, we ask ourselves: “What can we do?” We are the first organization to take charge of financial inclusion solutions for refugees and completing that task is what we can do. I’d like to think that we, indeed, would bank Steve Jobs, the son of a famous Syrian migrant or Albert Einstein, the most famous refugee in the world.  

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