Chatterbox is a new, innovative educational tech-for-good startup, simultaneously taking on the UK's language skills deficit and integrating refugees into the labour market. Find out more about what we do and why in this article.
Being multilingual is an asset most of us would love to have, but it isn’t always possible. With thousands seeking refuge in the UK, why not embrace the influx of skills and cultural and linguistic knowledge they offer?
There are over 117,000 people with refugee status living in the UK. A very high proportion of them are highly skilled and educated, capable of contributing a great deal to UK society and supporting themselves and their families. However, they are currently considerably more likely than the population average to be unemployed or underemployed, to experience less favourable working conditions in unsociable, low-skilled work.
"I don’t want to be a burden on the government, I want to be an asset, " says Kainaaz, a Chatterbox Farsi tutor and exiled film producer. "If I could make myself useful at any point with Chatterbox, as a conversation partner or as a helper in any other way, I would love to do that."
In parallel with refugee exclusion from the UK workforce, in 2013 it was estimated that the UK economy loses £48bn annually in missed trading opportunities due to a language skills deficit. With cuts to GCSE and A Level language offerings in Modern European and Middle Eastern Languages - not to mention the increasing need to reach out to more of the world post-Brexit - we think this is set to become an even more critical issue for the UK economy in years to come.
We want to ensure that those seeking refuge in the UK receive adequate opportunities to thrive in British society. We do this by training and employing refugees as language tutors to deliver high quality, personalised language learning services to universities, businesses and individual learners.
As a tech for good startup, we offer offer language lessons online, as well as in person, in a range of languages, including three Arabic dialects, two Persian dialects, Swahili, Korean, French and Spanish.
The easy-to-navigate online matching and tutoring side of the business enables the refugees who have been 'dispersed' across the country according to government policy - often in areas with relatively few employment opportunities - to benefit from the initiative, as well as those based near us in London.
Rather than serving as a hindrance to integration, we see refugees' diverse cultural and professional backgrounds and language skills as catalysts for their integration into the workforce, gaining them UK work experience and helping them grow their professional networks so that they can access even better opportunities.
We see varied and impressive professional backgrounds of our tutors as being of an enormous advantage to any language students who specialise in those fields. For instance, Hekma from Sudan, as a specialist in Human Rights and legal Arabic, would be well matched with any student interested in international law.
The Chatterbox business model is the brainchild of founder Mursal Hedayat who fled Afghanistan with her family and arrived as a refugee in the UK in the 1990s. Inspired by her polyglot, Civil Engineer mother’s decade-long struggle to find a job in the UK, Mursal thought of employing refugees as language tutors as a way to help them settle into their new lives, meet local people and increase their employability.
Chatterbox recognises the problem of underemployed refugee talent and sees a solution in the demand for their language skills. Bit by bit, language lesson by language lesson, we hope to play a part in changing the often negative and fearful attitudes towards refugees. Where tabloids see strain, we see the potential for incredible economic gain in the linguistic and professional skills refugees bring with them. Do you see any good reason to waste talent? Nor do we.
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