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Flip the View on Refugees

Often we don’t think about the circumstances and context we were born into. What would our lives be like if we had been born in a different country, or family, lived in a different neighborhood, or attended a different school? These factors affect the opportunities we have later in life and are very much outside of our control.

Leticia Galdón recounted the story of her grandmother, who was forced to flee her home in Spain to Algeria during the Spanish Civil War. Because her grandmother was born into a family with means, they were one of the fortunate ones to escape, survive, and return to Spain when it was safe again. Other Spaniards fled to different parts of the world.

Those who arrived in South America, including teachers, lawyers, and other professionals, ended up integrating into their new home countries and were able to secure gainful employment. Others who fled to neighboring France, faced a different outcome as the authorities there were not prepared. Families were separated and many ended up living in camps.

Path to Gainful Employment

Eight decades later, Leticia co-founded PAZ, a for-profit impact business, that trains and matches displaced professionals (more broadly, refugees) with companies in search of tech talent. PAZ works with companies to improve both their diversity and inclusion practices and processes, from identifying to integrating talent. Inclusion does not automatically follow diversity.

According to Leticia, “Forcibly displaced professionals are stigmatized because of their context. It takes them eight times as long to land a job compared to another professional with the same qualification and skill set”.

PAZ Program Phases

Leticia completed her undergraduate studies in international relations and social work in her native Spain, before moving to London for her postgraduate studies in conflicts, violence, and development. She had job offers to work with international organizations, for example, to support the peace treaty in Colombia with the United Nations Development Program. She declined these offers because she wanted to solve the refugee crisis that she saw on her own shores.

I was curious about how PAZ started and quizzed Leticia about it. “PAZ is in the business of empathy. The business model and value that we deliver will evolve according to what the market (companies in search of tech talent) and refugees need,” she replied.

“How did it start?” I pressed on.

Experimentation and Data

“People feel the pressure of making pilots work, and for me that’s a mistake. Because if you are trying to make the pilot work, you may alter the process which interferes with the data collection. So for the pilot we went into the refugee camps to teach coding to young refugees. We wanted to find out if training in camps was even possible. Our main goal was to get the refugees out of the camps. So we went to the camp with devices and internet using funds we raised on Kickstarter”, Leticia recounted.

The pilot did not run as smoothly as planned. Leticia and her team expected to work with refugees at two camps. One of the camps withdrew at the last minute and refused PAZ entry. They wanted to work with one hundred participants, but ended up training only forty-seven. This did not deter Leticia who continued with her experiment. For her, this was all data points into understanding the context for which PAZ would develop the better solution for both refugees and companies seeking talent.

This approach made me think of how scientists approach experiments—with curiosity and questions. They keep testing their assumptions and updating their data to see how the context has changed and to adapt and evolve their solutions.

“Back then, we didn’t know how to select candidates. We had not done it before. But now I know exactly how to run a selection process for a program like ours. Innovation is about failing, and learning from things that work and don’t work. You have to leave your ego behind and understand that this is not about you or your capacity to make things work from day one. The sooner you make the mistakes and the sooner you learn, the less risk you have further down the road and the less you lose,” she concluded.

Photo by Marco Chilese on Unsplash

“This seems like slow progress”, I raised. Often entrepreneurs are impatient to move faster and get to the answer quicker. “How do you justify this approach?”

Systems Over Outcomes

“As long as the wheel keeps on turning in the right direction, it does not matter if it is going faster. Changing the course of things takes time. By building up knowledge and expertise in the area, PAZ is developing its competitive advantage. We have clarity of the problem and the challenges of the different solutions.”

This resonated as the approach and system one puts in place is more important than the outcome today or tomorrow. In the long term, PAZ will have a better and more innovative solution that will enable companies to diversify their workforce, and integrate newcomers into their teams. I asked if she has any examples to share.

She shared the story of a woman from Iran whom PAZ placed as a cybersecurity analyst with Maersk. This placement would probably not have happened but for PAZ’s intervention. PAZ paired the Iranian candidate with the cybersecurity department lead who agreed to coach and help with the integration process. So PAZ improved on the diversity and inclusion process that enabled the candidate to thrive.

Within Maersk, team members saw that the business was not just about making the numbers but also contributing to social justice and giving opportunities to enable others to succeed. It was not just about meeting diversity quotas but to welcome and integrate another person into the business. This translated into higher engagement and ultimately economic value to the team.

As my conversation with Leticia drew to a close, she reflected on the impact that we would see if every company committed to hiring just 1 percent of their workforce from conflict-affected backgrounds. By letting go of our biases we stand to gain social and economic benefits.

Want to Help?

  • PAZ is looking to collaborate with business leaders in the UK and Europe to increase the diversity of tech talent. They are also looking for professionals in UX/UI design, software development, DevOps, cybersecurity, digital marketing, and data science to mentor PAZ fellows for an hour a week for six weeks. Get in touch with Leticia here.

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