WeAreTheCity and Visa Everywhere announce their 2024 Pioneer 20 on World Refugee Day

Pioneer 20 2024 - Top 20 refugee women in the EU

WeAreTheCity and Visa Everywhere are proud to celebrate twenty trailblazing refugee women entrepreneurs empowering local European economies and communities.

The Visa Everywhere Pioneer 20 recognition programme – run by WeAreTheCity, the free hub for women in business, and Visa, a world leader in digital payments – shines a spotlight on the amazing work of 20 trailblazing refugee women entrepreneurs, leading small businesses or social enterprises across Europe.

The final of the programme coincides with World Refugee Day, celebrating the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution. Today, the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement we have ever seen. According to the UN Refugee Agency, more than 114 million individuals have been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations.

This year’s finalists bring together 20 incredibly inspirational women building successful businesses while defying stigmas and stereotypes, changing lives, challenging narratives and empowering other refugees through employability and financial empowerment.

Nitharshini Mathyalagan had to flee war in Sri Lanka twice leaving behind her family and home, her finance career in ruins, she retrained as a chef in France, she has since hosted 500 events and catered for over 5,000 people. She now manages her own catering business and teaches other to cook. 

Nitharshini Mathyalagan

Maria Igwebuike created a sustainable lingerie brand using old wedding dresses. She now employees and trains fellow refugees providing economic empowerment and skills for women.

Maria Igwebuike

Last Mafuba set up her business Inini which provides integration and mental health support to new refugees. Last has also helped shape policy in the UK and has been a key contributor to improved mental health services for refugees in Midlands.

Last Mafuba

Nataliia Ilchenko is helping 100s of Ukrainian students to secure education in other countries through her business EduSpot. She recognised the unique challenges Ukrainian student face in the aftermath of war and conflict. Her business is helping the next generation of Ukrainians to continue their education through scholarships and opportunities to further their education.

Nataliia Ilchenko

These are just four of the 20 incredible awardees of the 2024 Visa Everywhere Pioneer20 project.

WeAreTheCity has been humbled to read the stories of so many incredible businesswomen and leaders who were nominated for this year’s Pioneer20. These women have shown such resilience, strength, and tenacity. Despite their own harrowing experiences, they have worked tirelessly to ensure that their fellow refugees and asylum seekers have the support they need to rebuild their lives.

I am honoured that we have had the opportunity alongside Visa to shine a spotlight on their incredible work. Congratulations – you are an inspiration to us all.

Vanessa Vallely OBEWeAreTheCity Founder

It’s a privilege to celebrate the remarkable women featured in this year’s Visa Everywhere Pioneer 20 recognition programme. Each nomination we receive serves as a heartwarming example of how these trailblazers inspire others, break down barriers and create meaningful change. These women not only overcome personal hardships but actively reshape narratives to empower women and girls around the world. I extend my gratitude to WeAreTheCity for partnering on this vital initiative – congratulations to everyone involved.

Mandy Lamb,Managing Director Visa UK & Ireland

To read the full stories of these remarkable women, please visit here

To read the announcement press release, please click here.

The next Pioneer 20 initiative will open in February 2025, for all enquiries, please email [email protected]

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Pioneer 20 2024 - Top 20 refugee women in the EU

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