Colourful portraits celebrate the success of London’s refugee entrepreneurs


Led by photographer and director JJ Keith, these striking images symbolise the journeys of refugee entrepreneurs, amplifying their voices and celebrating their contributions to British society.

Refugee and entrepreneur are not words you often hear in the same sentence. And yet, for obvious reasons, those who’ve risked life and limb to bring their families to a safer country are often pretty motivated to make a better life for themselves.

So it’s unsurprising that they have a stronger work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit than the local population.

We don’t see these stories in the media that often, though. And so in the lead-up to Refugee Week, Open Britain, led by photographer and director JJ Keith, and social enterprise TERN, The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network, have teamed up to do something about it.

Show don’t tell

Their collaboration results in a photographic portrait series showcasing the tales of eight refugee entrepreneurs based in London. The idea came about in January 2023, when a loose photographic project concept took JJ and his camera to Shepherds Bush Market, where he met and captured Osman in his colourful juice stall.

An internet search revealed Osman’s story was even more powerful than the picture. Thus, the photographic project Open Britain: Portrait of a Diverse Nation began. It is based around relaxed portraits that confront the viewer, providing a close connection to the subject.



The project aims to illuminate the remarkable journeys and achievements of these individuals. All have had to overcome adversity to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams in sectors ranging from fashion and fine art to food and beverage and social impact.

Bursting with life and colour, the series is an excellent example of the maxim ‘show, don’t tell’. Through its vivid and thought-provoking imagery, Open Britain: Portrait of a Diverse Nation captures the spirit of multiculturalism in Britain in a way no amount of endless worthy think-pieces could.

Over the past 18 months, JJ has documented the lives and experiences of over 100 first-generation migrants, showcasing the rich tapestry of cultures that make up the fabric of British society. Each portrait is a testament to these individuals’ unique creativity and resilience, who have transformed their challenges into opportunities.

Tales of flight

One such story is that of Veronika Shmorhun, a Ukrainian artist who fled her home during the Russian invasion. Her artwork reflects the destruction of war and the hope found in nature. We also met Razieh Riazati, a former clinical psychologist from Iran, who is now pursuing her passion for ceramics in the UK.

Lightcraft Family


Then there’s Max, a Sri Lankan Tamil who sought asylum in the UK in 2015 and faced persecution and mistreatment before battling PTSD. With support from the Helen Bamber Foundation, he launched Payanam, a platform that helps refugees heal through photography and art.

Another subject is Yeukai Taruvinga, who was born in Zimbabwe and unexpectedly caught up in the UK asylum system for nine years after fleeing political turmoil.

During this time, she immersed herself in community work, eventually founding Active Horizons, a youth-led organisation that empowers and advocates for the voices of young migrants and refugees in London.

Alongside her activism, she runs Shumba Boutique, a clothing brand that supports women in Zimbabwe by providing employment opportunities.

Making dreams a reality

The series not only celebrates the diversity and entrepreneurial spirit of these individuals but also encourages readers to support refugee-led businesses through Anqa, Europe’s first online marketplace for refugee-led businesses, launched by TERN in 2020.



JJ has dedicated the collection to his father, who was born in Vienna and sought refuge in the UK himself after the rise of the Nazis.

“Everyone should have the right to follow their aspirations,” says Isobelle Ford, head of community ventures at TERN. “Each of the TERN x Open Britain stories spotlights the dream of an entrepreneur in our community and follows the challenges they’ve overcome to make it a reality.”

As Yeukai Taruvinga, TERN alumni and founder of Active Horizons and Shumba Boutique, adds, “Through the TERN x Open Britain collaboration, we aim to amplify the voices of refugee entrepreneurs and celebrate their contributions to society, showcasing the incredible talent within the refugee community.”

Overall, this powerful portrait series serves as a testament to the resilience, creativity, and determination of refugee entrepreneurs, reminding us that their stories are woven into the fabric of our diverse and vibrant society.


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