Meet Makers Unite, the Dutch initiative giving a new purpose to life jackets worn by refugees


Back on September 4th, I was lucky to attend the Great Minds Meeting, an event created by our partners from Masterpeace. There, 350 minds got together to inspire, get inspired and connect in favor of peace and inclusivity. In between the many incredible people I met, was Thami Schweichler, one of the people behind Makers Unite. As he has an amazing story to tell I invited him for an interview, here is the beautiful result.

Could you tell us a little bit of what Makers Unite is?

We say Makers Unite is a social enterprise that aims to create opportunities for newcomers with a refugee background. But in reality, it is much more than this. Based on ‘making stuff together’ we get people around to produce products, develop events, give workshops and design creative projects. All with the goal of connecting newcomers to equal opportunities in our society through creativity.

Where did you get the idea to start this project?

We (not “me”) started Makers Unite as a project of the cultural organization The Beach. Located in the Nieuw West of Amsterdam, The Beach develops projects for social innovation based on the principle of co-creation. We were approached at the end of 2015 by the Greek NGO Odyssea which was looking for partners that could tackle the environmental issue of life-vests, left by newcomers in the Greek islands.

In Amsterdam, we started sessions of co-creation to look for solutions for the life-vests. In the sessions, there were newcomers and local designers. This resulted in the Re-Vest Life campaign, made in collaboration with Refugee Company and Movement On The Ground.

For the campaign, we produced ribbons made with fabric from the life-vests and we brought it to the public during Kingsday of 2016.

That was a great success that started sharing our positive perspective on the situation of migration in Europe. The campaign was well received by the local public. It was then, during the making of these ribbons, that we discovered the potential of ‘making stuff together’. The moment of making could serve as an opportunity for newcomers to share their goals and ambitions, while locals could support by leading newcomers to opportunities for education and work.

We developed a social business model around this idea and this proposal was the winner of the Refugee Challenge, organized by What Design Can, UNCHR and Ikea Foundation. That was a global competition with more than 600 entries, so winning it gave us the boost to start Makers Unite as a social enterprise.

Since then we grew from a one-of awareness campaign to a solid social enterprise making products in Amsterdam and creative assignments in several countries.

Who are the people you work with?

Our team counts with about 14 people ranging from newcomer tailors to experienced service designers. We blend our expertise in between developing services for our social inclusion program and designing products that can be made by participants of our activities, being sold to support our programs.

Every two months we open doors for more newcomers to join our sessions at Makers Unite. These programs last 6 weeks working together with creatives to develop their professional presentation and afterward match them to professional opportunities. This year alone more than 50 newcomers already joined our programs, which we are very proud of!

What do you see as the future of the project?

Our aim in the long term is to be able to provide social inclusion opportunities across Europe and Middle-East by sharing our hands-on principles of co-creativity and what we call “design thinking applied to everyday-life” of newcomers. This all to be supported by the commercialization of the products we make together. Today we work with life-vests as they are a symbol for the current situation, in the future, we want to produce everyday products made with recycled/sustainable materials that reflect our values of sustainability.

How can people support Makers Unite?

So many ways! Easiest one? Go to and get your sleeve of bag so you can go trendy to work while sharing a message of positivity with those you meet.

Furthermore, Makers Unite is always looking for opportunities to be offered to the members of our community. This can be by connecting your business with us as a partner, joining our events or by signing up as a volunteer of our matchmaking program.

What is your main tip for people trying to make a change in the world?

Do it now! And don’t think too much. Changing the world starts today with your own two hands.

Although some of the world’s problems today seem so big and out of hand, you and me, with the little we know, can do a lot if little by little we just start by acting. Here. Now.

Jori questions

Jori is a game tested in more than 700 people. It consists of profound and weird questions that have the power to really connect people and escape the old ‘what do you do?’ and ‘where are you from’ script.

Weird question: You wake up and there’s an enormous chicken-shaped balloon floating in your bedroom. How do you deal with this?

That’s the perfect call for a party to start! Isn’t it? I would throw out the biggest omelet party my room could fit!

Profound question: What’s more important: a happy life or a meaningful life? Why?

A happy life with a meaningful purpose. For me, happiness is conditioned to waking up every morning knowing that I am going to do the right thing to make the world a slightly better place. So happy life & meaningful life go hand in hand.

Thami Schweichler