When Mursal Hedayat's mum fled Afghanistan in 1994 during the Afghan Civil War, she was a qualified engineer with a decade of experience in her field and spoke four languages fluently. Travelling overland to London, she didn't realise that she'd spend the next decade working in a string of low skilled jobs, or unemployed, in one of the world's most developed economies.
Her qualifications had become meaningless, she couldn’t afford to re-qualify and she became trapped. Her story is anything but unique with hundreds of talented refugees facing a bleak future as their confidence and aspirations fade. This summer, a social enterprise set up by Hedayat (pictured) to help others like her mum get skilled work, picked up the coveted AbilityNet Tech4Good Award 2017 for outstanding community impact.
The venture - Chatterbox - trains and employs refugees to be language and culture tutors for individuals and organisations. The refugees come from many diverse areas of work, but include architects, dentists and pharmacists from places such as Syria, Iran and and Congo. It means they can have more hope, feel respected for their skills and have a better chance of being able to support themselves in the UK.
Community Impact Award - AbilityNet Tech4Good 2017
A year after setting up, the team is thrilled by the recognition given by the AbilityNet Tech4Good Award for Community Impact. "It gave us a really good confidence boost to win such a well known award and some good attention too," says Hedayat.
Currently, 60 refugees are employed to teach, either via online video call, or face-to-face in schools, offices and universities, mainly in London. The number has doubled from 30 in the past couple of months. Most of the refugees employed have been to university and/ or worked as teachers in their own countries, but roles are open to anyone with refugee status who is capable of doing the job. The tutors work around eight to 10 hours a week earning the London Living Wage of £9.75 an hour.
Chatterbox is building up a variety of clients, which include SOAS (School for the study of Africa, Asia and Middle East) University in London and the Red Cross. "Students can learn a plethora of interesting languages, from Arabic, Persian, Korean, Swahili and French to Hindi and Turkish. Tutors and their students can also learn more about each other's cultures and countries," says Hedayat.
"We've also recently started working with primary and secondary skills to provide taster sessions in these languages to entice them into language learning. With business clients, the interest is in provide language lessons for staff personal development, life long learning or just for something fun to do at lunchtime."
Superstar volunteer developers
A lot of the communication, bookings, scheduling and invoicing for Chatterbox is done using an evolving online platform. “We have a group of superstar developers who currently give up their Saturday mornings to help build calendars and chat tools and lots of other exciting things for us,” says the entrepreneur.
We're currently moving from an off-the-shelf calendar, and creating a dashboard for tutors to track performance and invoice us . We’d love to hear from any others who want to use their skills for social good and volunteer in our team, she adds.
Last month Chatterbox received more than 100 job applications from refugees and is keen to keep expanding to support those coming to Britain who need hope and the chance of a positive future. There is plenty of room for growth and the organisation, which has been supported with grants from NESTA, Bethnal Green Ventures, UnLtd and others, looks set to continue to attract interest and support. "The good news is we are increasingly taken on bigger clients," offers Hedayat.
- AbilityNet Tech4Good awards, run in association with BT, are an annual event celebrating technology being used for social good.
Read more about the awards