TDi has been committed to inclusive sustainable businesses since the early days of the social enterprise movement in Australia. We’ve proudly partnered with NAB in a number of ways, one of which was the Two Feet Accelerator programs. These were designed as part of a long-term mission to build a critical mass of successful social enterprises across Australia. Now, several years on we’re seeing the real fruits of these initiatives. We’re following up on several Two Feet Accelerator Alumni businesses to see what they’re up to…
We met the founders of Refugee Talent Nirary and Anna right at the beginning of their journey through our Two Feet Accelerator in 2016. We’ve begun working with Refugee Talent again recently, so it was nice to reflect on the story so far and chat about their plans for the future. Here’s what we caught up on…
Nirary and Anna connected during a hackathon where they looked at how to use technology to address the barriers to employment faced by refugees. It was Nirary’s personal experience as a Syrian refugee and Anna’s experiences working in Nauru that have given them the passion to create Refugee Talent – a recruitment and technology platform connecting Refugees with Employers.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did your business begin?
In 2015 we started the social enterprise. We met earlier that year at a hackathon run by the refugee organisation SSI who actually helped Nirary when he first arrived. The idea was to explore how technology could be used to help refugees access employment. After chatting with many refugees we knew that they face many barriers. One of the barriers was employment, so we decided to find a solution for this problem. Our idea was to create a searchable catalogue where refugees could upload their resume and make it accessible to Australian businesses. They could search for specific skills and qualifications, and find the right candidate for any position in their business.
Did you start with a clear business model or did it evolve?
No, we started this small project for a few months, and then realised that the catalogue was not enough – we needed to provide more services. So we started providing some pre-employment services, preparation interviews and networking events. After a few months we added more services but realised that other refugee organisations were already doing this kind of support.
The missing piece was the technology. This is the part that businesses were interested in – how the data could be quickly and easily accessible and make it easy to find candidates. So around 18 months – 2 years ago we started to offer our software as a service (SaaS) to these refugee organisations. We really started to shift our business model from recruitment to software provider.
Our software was white labelled for the organisation and helped to manage their talent pool, make these clients visible to the employer, make it easy for businesses to login and search for specific candidates. Also, by offering our software across different refugee organisations, we could build a national catalogue and make the reporting even easier for the government, for the refugee organisation and for the business.
So how did you end up being part of the TDi Two Feet Accelerator program?
We discovered the Two Feet program by chatting with someone we met from TDi and so we applied. We weren’t really aware of this kind of program at the time. It was really good to learn about all the different concepts of social enterprise and governance, marketing, strategy and all these different aspects you’re not necessarily thinking about when you first start. It helped us get more business savvy and work out what we needed to do. We won the prize too, we came first! Actually, I think we drew with Settlein.
“And that kind of launched us. We raised our first round of investment after that, and we’ve raised again two years later. Now we’re on our third capital raising, which is why we’ve come back to TDI for the investor readiness preparation.”
Wow! That’s incredible. What has the investment enabled you to do, and what plans do you have for the future?
We’re just 5 people but we do a lot with what we have! We’ve been able to build another recruitment platform for social inclusion that enables business to hire not just refugees, but people with disabilities, people from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds and other groups. So large organisations can link with many diverse suppliers. This started as a one-off project for the Level Crossing project, but we now can offer the platform to all sorts of organisations to use.
We really want to ramp up our staff to be able to scale our impact across all these groups. Right now, we feel really held back – we don’t have enough resources to scale quickly especially during Covid recovery when the underrepresented groups are facing even more employment barriers and our social inclusion platform can help open more employment opportunities to these groups.
Did you ever plan on starting a business?
No I think we more or less fell into it. We started the hackathon with 10 people in our team, with Nirary and I probably the quietest of the group. But we ended up being the last two standing and were like, “well why doesn’t this idea exist already? No one else is going to do it!” And that idea has carried us forward through many challenges over the last five years.
What motivates you to keep building and growing?
A: “Who would start a business?!” is our saying when things get tough! But the idea of why it needs to exist is what keeps us going. My personal motivation is having worked on Nauru and just seeing the waste of human life of refugees still displaced and how they’re seen as a problem instead of an opportunity and skills and human beings that want to contribute to the world.
“So that’s what motivates me. There’s 80 million other refugees stuck around the world that the government and world see as this problem. And slowly but surely through our work, we are changing that opinion. We’re showing that people want to contribute and have skills and talents that can fill skills gaps around the world and there will be a pipeline of talent for new industry.”
N: So for me it’s really solving the problems for the hundreds of thousands of people newly arriving and helping them get back to their profession. This is a social problem – it’s both an economic and a social problem. So when we chat to the people that we work with – from candidates from Jordan, Lebanon to the business, we’re changing people’s lives. You can’t help but be motivated when you see the impact on, not just that person you helped to find work, but their family and the business as well.
What are some of the specific things you celebrate in the journey so far?
Having one system – working towards this national solution for refugee, migrant and diversity employment programs.
Now with our new platform and our work with Talent beyond Boundaries of creating additional visa pathways in each country. We’ve done it in Australia and we’re working in New Zealand, creating a whole new skilled refugee visa, so we’re changing things.
And just that we’ve kept innovating. We took on the Level Crossing diversity platform because it was a way to get on the path to sustainability. Because we were open to doing something different, we’ve discovered this whole new area where we can achieve broader social impact. We just keep listening and innovating and seeing where we might be needed to solve another problem.
What advice or encouragement would you give to other people who are maybe just at the beginning of their social enterprise journey?
I think when you’re really solving a problem – you’re solving a market need in a way.
You really need to understand the problem and what the dimensions of it are. As much as you understand the problem is as much as you have a clearer business idea.
And when you believe this problem exists and will exist forever until someone finds a solution for it then your business idea is valid. You may not be successful in the short term, but you can be successful in the long term.
So you’ve got to find the right customer then make sure you deliver a really good product or service to them. And some customers are not right for you – you can waste a lot of time that way.
Thanks so much for sharing Anna and Nirary. We’ve excited to be working with you again.
It’s really nice to come back again and work on our future plans together. I think we really want to get clear on our business plan and best approach to scale this platform as quickly and as best as possible and continue to build a sustainable organisation.
Find out more about Refugee Talent here.
Thinking about Impact Investment for your social enterprise?
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