Lynn Freehill Maye | January 13, 2017
Working in Turkey two years ago, husband and wife Josh and Anca Burke, both 2008 MBA graduates, saw Syrian refugees coursing through the streets every day, trying to piece together new lives.
The couple was stationed there for Josh’s job as a commercial attaché with the U.S. Commerce Department. And while the Burkes participated when the American embassy held refugee food and clothing drives, they felt called to contribute more of their skills. “Because of time spent at Notre Dame and doing business advisory work, we thought there might be a way to give back that was even bigger,” Josh says.
A year later, Josh has co-founded a social benefit corporation, the Anka Cooperative, that employs refugees living in Turkish camps to weave high-end rugs in rich colors and ornate patterns, with some antique and traditional motifs and other more modernized styles (like popular ones featuring fish). The venture has raised an initial $100,000 through a runaway-successful Kickstarter campaign. Now hundreds of refugees are being trained to weave, and Anka is selling the rugs they produce through its online store at ankacoop.org.
The idea began when Josh learned of a Turkish-American producer, Neslihan Jevremovic, who had been employing women in the country for decades to make museum-quality rugs. He contacted Jevremovic, asking, “Have you thought about hiring people in the camps?”
“We have a lot to talk about,” she replied. Jevremovic’s company, Woven Legends, was already training weavers in the camps, but hadn’t thought to publicize it.