The journey from Syria to Europe is not an easy one. Though the routes are constantly changing, they usually involve thousands of miles of walking, dangerous boat rides, and constant fear of violence and deportation.

Despite this, millions of refugees have made their way to Europe in the past decade, from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and several other countries.

In Austria, a group of social entrepreneurs, some of whom had their own refugee experiences, thought: what if we can find something positive here? What is the silver lining?

This is their story.

The beginning 

In 2015, Dominik Beron was attending an education conference in Austria when he struck up a conversation with a young man named Abdul.

As they were chatting, Abdul revealed that though he was trained as an economist in pakistan, he had to flee his home, and had been accepted into Austria as a refugee. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t still pursuing his dreams. In fact, Abdul was at the conference as one step towards his goal of one day returning home and revolutionizing the education system. But in the meantime, as a refugee in Austria, it was difficult for Abdul to find employment. Even though he was legally permitted to work, he faced social barriers and had not yet found a job.

Dominik was stunned. Abdul was a highly educated and very intelligent young man; it seemed unfathomable that he was unable to find work. “[I] couldn't believe that people carrying so much potential and ambition were hindered by labour market restrictions instead of using their skills for the benefit of all.”

After the conference, Dominik reached out to Jacob Wagner and Fatima Almukthar, whom he had worked with on a previous social venture. They knew there must be many more refugees like Abdul—talented and driven individuals who were seeking employment and would be an asset to Austrian employers. After all, “In 2015 alone, over 1.3 million people applied for asylum in the European Union and almost 90,000 of those people did so in Austria.”

As the team brainstormed, they uncovered the main barrier: refugees and employers simply weren’t able to find and connect with each other.

And so, together they created what would become Refugeeswork.at, with a mission to tear down this barrier.

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The refugeeswork.at team

Using innovative tech for good

In order to connect job-seeking refugees and employee-seeking businesses, Dominik and his team had to find a way to enable communication between these groups.

To do so, they created an effective, easy-to-use online platform. However, this wasn’t just a simple replica of existing job sites; when designing the platform, they took into account the unique needs of their two types of customers. For refugees, they provide free interview preparation, legal information, “software-supported CV creation, and automated application management” to make the process of job seeking more efficient. For employers, they provide both validation of candidates’ legal employment status as well as consultancy on policies and public subsidies that support hiring refugees. Both sets of customers benefit from chat and calendar services on the website, which help to smooth communication.

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refugeeswork.at interactive platform


With a matching rate of 43%, the numbers at Refugeeswork.at speak for themselves. “We place almost every other job, even though we compete with “normal” job platforms and recruitment agencies.” Currently, there are more than 275 companies and over 5,400 refugees registered on their platform.

The business case

At its heart, the main goal of Refugeeswork.at is to reduce inequalities in the labor market. “People are often discriminated against at work because of race, colour or religion. On one side, we try to diminish negative prejudice, and, on the other side, help those disadvantaged people find jobs.” To do this, they’ve successfully attracted a significant number of employers to the platform.

Though the ethical case is strong, much of this has been due to the robust business case for hiring refugees.

Of course, there is the case for talent. By recruiting new hires who are refugees, businesses significantly increase their pool of potential employees.

Also, companies stand to improve their performance for two reasons. First, better products may be created through improved understanding of refugees as a market. Second, research shows that diverse teams perform better than uniform ones. For example, a 2013 study out of MIT found that investors who sought advice from a diverse network of people earned 30% more on their investments. In comparison, networks that contained people too similar to one another performed worse because they created an “echo chamber” which prevented creative thinking.

Hiring refugees is also a good PR opportunity. Businesses can can demonstrate that they hold—and practice—ethical values.

More than just a job

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Recruiting and hiring refugees can be a smart business decision


Though income is important, for refugees, having work means much more than that.

The team at Refugeeswork.at in particular can personally speak to this, as two staff have been refugees themselves. “They know how hard it is to start a new life in a new country without knowing the language, the social norms or the people.”

Having a job gives refugees a chance to more fully participate in “social and cultural life,” by spending significant amounts of time with locals in their host country. Building new relationships can contribute significantly to a sense of belonging; of inclusion. “The most promising way to establish such interaction is in the workplace, since people spend most of the day there.”

Perhaps most importantly, “work gives refugees freedom and dignity. It allows them to build their own independent lives as well as contribute to, and therefore become a respected member of, our society.”

It’s not always easy to reach refugees, however.

Being new to the country, refugees “lack information about media providers and face language barriers.” Additionally, rather than email, they tend to prefer using text, messaging apps, or social media. To overcome this hurdle, the organization works with nonprofits that have direct, regular access to refugees. They also have a network of refugee “ambassadors” who help them reach various communities.  

Expanding the impact

Both Austrian and international audiences are taking note of the difference that Refugeeswork.at is making. Last year, they won a Social Impact Award at Impact Hub Vienna, where they are members. And this year, all three co-founders made Forbes’ acclaimed 30 Under 30 list, alongside seven other Impact Hub entrepreneurs.

Watch refugeeswork.at's Social Impact Award finalist video


Impact Hub’s global network
has also helped facilitate the next phase for Refugeeswork.at: international expansion. The team hopes to replicate their product across the globe. This is a step towards their long-term goal to “promote equal chances for refugees and migrants on the labour market (measured in unemployment rate and average wages) all over the world."

So far, they’re already in contact with organizations in six countries, but Fatima, Jacob, and Dominik need your help to keep progressing.

“We are looking for institutions, startups, and individuals that are interested in building a great social venture to promote labour market integration of disadvantaged groups (refugees/migrants, long term unemployed etc.) in their country."  

Does that sound like you or someone you know? If so, email office@refugeeswork.at to explore future work together.  

One day, perhaps, communities won’t be forced to flee their homes due to war, and organizations serving refugees won’t be needed. Until then, Refugeeswork.at makes their lives just a little easier once they arrive, by helping them find dignity and income through work--not to mention creating a valuable resource for local employers.


 

Refugeeswork.at services that help refugees find economic stability, dignity, and connection through employment contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

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For more information about Refugeeswork.at, visit www.refugeeswork.at or email office@refugeeswork.at.

Member Stories, SDGs, impact hub vienna

Martha Burwell

Martha Burwell

Martha Burwell is an independent gender equity consultant and writer. She specializes in design-based solutions to address root causes of inequities. An avid traveler, she’s visited over 30 countries and lived and volunteered in 4. She now calls Seattle her home, and blogs about intersectional gender equity at www.EqualiSea.org. See www.marthaburwell.com for more details.

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