Connecting refugee talent with remote work

  • 6Minutes

As entrepreneurs building remote and global teams, we are already trailblazing in a variety of ways. We love to solve problems – new problems and / or age-old problems. And many of us are keenly aware of the social issues that remote work stands a chance of tackling. That said, not all social issues get equal ‘screen time’ in our heads and in our (remote) boardrooms, and the global refugee crisis is one that deserves its fair share.

What would happen if we were able to channel some of our collective innovation and ambition towards solving some of the problems that are at play amongst refugee communities? And: what would happen if we were to open ourselves up enough – as leaders and as companies – to allow us (and our company culture) to be changed by them?

‘Refugee’ is a political label. It refers to a person who has been forced to leave his or her country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster. There are approximately 82 million people on the planet today who are considered to be ‘displaced’; 26 million of those people are refugees. More and more, governments have been framing this humanitarian crisis as a security issue, but we don’t have to participate with this incomplete narrative. What if we were to be part of a different narrative?

Abu Dhabi-based Lorraine Charles is an academic and social entrepreneur whose expertise lies in – amongst other things – refugee issues in the Middle East. Through her own organic discovery and appreciation of remote work, she has come to envision a future whereby remote work could be one viable solution to some of the myriad challenges that refugee populations face. Often unable to enter into the local workforce for a variety of reasons, refugees are confronted with a unique set of challenges when it comes to earning a living for themselves and their families.

Lorraine co-founded Na’amal (which means ‘we work’ in Arabic) in 2019 as an organization that provides employers access to refugee talent. Na’amal trains refugees and other underrepresented communities to prepare them to be successful in finding – and then thriving in – remote roles. This is an incredible opportunity where we, as leaders of remote and conscious-culture companies, can step up and join Lorraine in making a difference in this space.

There are a number of ways that we can co-create a new narrative and new reality when it comes to bringing remote work to refugee populations. 

(1) The first one starts with ourselves and our mindsets. Many people have a muddied view of who refugees really are. Refugees are like you and like me – and like everyone else. They have, however – quite simply, needed to leave their country for safety reasons, and this is the root of what sets them apart. We need to be open to letting go of any incomplete perceptions we might have garnered from seeing and hearing about refugees through various media sources. How can we do that? Check out the next couple of points.

(2) Na’amal offers a virtual mentoring program, whereby seasoned remote professionals are paired with participants in the program who have completed technical training and who have also completed Na’amal’s skills development program. These mentors offer guidance to their mentees when it comes to the skills that are needed to become effective remote workers. The mentorship commitment spans four to six months; it requires an engagement of one hour every other week; there is a sponsorship fee of $1,000 USD per mentor; and the next two cohorts kick off in March and June respectively. If mentorship sounds like something that you and / or your team members would like to participate in, you can register your interest here. In addition to the obvious ways that this would be helpful to mentees, this is an exceptional way for those of us who are not part of these vulnerable populations to expand our understanding – and deepen our experience – of who we are talking about when we use the term ‘refugee’.

(3) The ultimate goal of course is to get refugees hired into long-term remote roles where everyone involved is growing and thriving. So, certainly then another way to show up as a positive actor in this space – as an entrepreneur – is to actively seek out hiring someone who holds refugee status. Na’amal can help you do this in a handful of different ways. They can help you, quite simply, hire the talent for any one individual role that you are looking to fill. They also – for companies who are interested in more serious involvement – offer a membership program that includes a three-year time commitment and a financial investment spanning from $10,000 to $30,000 USD. There are various tiers to the membership program, and depending on the tier, the program includes between 10 and 30 employees, between 5 and 10 ‘talent hires’ (graduates of Na’amal’s programs), access to ‘impact reports’ and other things. And for companies who are larger and looking for, say, 20 or more people for one type of role, Na’amal can partner with you to get a whole cohort trained up. (In this instance, the training would need to be funded by the company in question.)

Being a positive actor in this space and participating in co-creating a new narrative for refugees comes with rich benefits. 

For companies. There is much talk nowadays about hiring diversely, and for good reason. Cognitive diversity is a must in order for companies to come to their problems at new angles. It’s also important to remember that we ‘attract who we are’, and if we want a company ecosystem (including customers, team members, suppliers, etc.) who take social responsibility seriously, we first need to ‘be’ that. And – of course – if we are offering products or services to a global market, doesn’t it make sense for us to be in touch with what is really happening ‘on the ground’ across the globe? 

For refugees. Providing dignified work and a respectable income to people who are facing significant obstacles on this front can transform their living situation, their family life and breathe hope into their new existence in a foreign land. 

For society. We are all interconnected. We are all impacted by each other’s circumstances. All boats rise when we acknowledge this and take action accordingly.

To learn more – from Lorraine Charles and others – on how hiring diversely can benefit your business and society, consider signing up for the ‘Achieving Diversity Through Global Hiring’ session of our Align Summit. This session will be taking place on Tuesday, 8th February at 9:30am PST / 5:30pm GMT. 

And of course, we encourage you to connect with Lorraine – and her organization Na’amal – if you feel called to join her in co-creating a more just and rich world…by helping refugees enter into the thriving eco-system that is the global remote workforce.

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