Syrian Refugees Gain Access to Economic Opportunities on Udemy

Udemy’s relationship with the International Rescue Committee and Western Union is helping displaced people prepare for jobs and start businesses


One of Udemy’s key beliefs is that the best teachers aren’t necessarily found in classrooms or even in schools. That’s why our online marketplace is open to anyone who wants to create a course and share their knowledge with the world.

We can’t think of an instructor who proves out this belief better than Safa’a Sukkariah, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan with her three children. She’d supported herself by sewing and making accessories back in Syria but didn’t find demand for these skills in her new home. After completing skills and financial literacy training with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Safa’a received a business grant to start her own plumbing repair business.

Cultural norms where Safa’a lives prevent women from having men in their home to do repairs unless another trusted male is present, so she started her own plumbing business. In addition to doing repairs in women’s homes, she also works with local hardware vendors to advertise her business.

Getting refugees online to help themselves and others

Udemy was able to empower Safa’a further through a relationship we formed with the IRC and Western Union in September 2016. As part of an initiative to explore new business models for employment, the IRC and Western Union helped fund and develop a small-scale prototype to test business process outsourcing tasks for refugees and Jordanians. Through this effort, we also tested onboarding refugees like Safa’a as course instructors on Udemy as a way to earn income.

We know Udemy courses generate passive income for tens of thousands of instructors on our platform every month and wanted to see if the same opportunity could be extended to people affected by displacement in Jordan. In addition to teaching students how to fix a clogged sink, the Udemy course “Practical Plumbing with Safa’a Sukkariah” includes video of Safa’a sharing her personal story of moving from Dara’a, Syrian, to Jordan in 2012 and starting her home-improvement business. Safa’a keeps 100% of course sales (before currency exchange), and we removed the bank account barrier, enabling Safa’a to receive her payments in cash through the Western Union® Quick Cash solution.

Both Udemy and Western Union have strong connections to immigrants and refugees.. Following a visit to refugee camps in Greece, Jodie Madden (Senior Manager of Global Loyalty Development at Western Union) said this project was “a good fit with our business model, which aligns closely with our mission to enable with work opportunities and a cash-payment income the self-reliance of refugees as they work to get settled in a new home.”

The IRC worked on the ground to overcome the challenges Safa’a faced during the production of her course, such as getting access to the necessary computer and audio-visual equipment, translation and editing skills, and ensuring IRC was a liaison for all interactions with Udemy.

“Our goal is to develop evidence-based approaches that could provide long-term solutions for job creation in displacement settings in the shortest time possible,” explained Kimberly Behrman, Enterprise Development and Employment Officer at the IRC. “We’re thrilled to partner with members of the business community like Western Union and Udemy to work toward that goal and help people like Safa’a.”

Access to learning leads to opportunities

This isn’t the first time Udemy has used our international reach to help deserving populations around the world connect with resources not easily available in their region. As part of our Social Innovation program, we work with NGOs and nonprofits to amplify their causes and extend their specific expertise by creating online course content.

Solidarity Uganda, for example, is a collective of trainers and consultants who teach nonviolent action, movement building, and social change. They released a free Udemy course designed to show students how to apply nonviolent strategies to issues affecting their communities.

At Udemy, we continue to be amazed and inspired by the everyday experts who come to our platform from virtually every corner of the globe. They’re the ones on the front lines, fulfilling our mission to help people improve their lives through learning. But as Safa’a demonstrates, teaching offers real rewards as well.

Enroll in Safa’a’s plumbing course now! If you’re a refugee or know a refugee interested in producing and earning income from an online course on Udemy, get in touch with us.