Remote learning for remote earning for displaced people
"Looking back at my life, perhaps this was the single most important course I have ever taken. This course introduced me to the intellectual enterprise of programming and computer science. as a tool to solve real-world analytical problems using Python… Through MIT ReACT and Na’amal, for the first time in my life I was partnered with a mentor, Stella Huang. This has been such an amazing experience for me having someone I can always talk to who helps guide me and reflect through everything. My mentor became my friend and she has supported me through my skills training and remote work placement opportunities."
- Jerry Vance Anguzu, MIT ReACT Alumni, 2020-2021
The project in brief
The project is implemented by Na'amal in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as online with a global cohort of learners from 29 countries. The first project was launched in 2020 with several projects still ongoing. The idea is to continuously offer the programme, training and supporting displaced people indefinitely.
In order to overcome the obstacles many refugees face when accessing local employment, we provide the technical skills, via partnerships, and soft skills training for dignified remote employment. By doing so we are filling the talent gap by supplying companies with global access to highly skilled refugee candidates.
The project aims to engage the private sector to employ refugees remotely, thereby filling the talent gap, overcome the obstacle of not having access to local employment, support refugees to find and dignified remote employment, and support in the formalisation of informality.
Main activities of the Good Practice
The programme consists of a four main parts:
- Soft skills: ‘Human Skills for Digital Employment’, this part consists of of self-paced asynchronous online modules;
- Group interactive and supportive virtual workshops (run on Zoom);
- One-to-one mentorship; which runs in parallel with work experience/internship at the end of the training;
- Supporting learners find internships and paid employment by engaging and building hiring and mentoring partnerships with employers.
The global pandemic triggered a global shift toward working remotely, along with the recognition that employers can be beyond international borders. Thus, the idea of remote digital work for refugees became viable. Our first partnership with Chams, a coding bootcamp in Jordan, originated from this recognition that remote work for refugees could be viable by the then UNHCR Head of Zaatari refugee camp, who facilitated the introduction to implement the first project.
- MIT Refugee Action Hub (ReACT)
- Paper Airplanes
- Virtual Training Team
- New York University Abu Dhabi
Challenges and how they were overcome
Before the pandemic, when approaching organisations for funding and partnerships, no one believed that remote digital work could be viable for workers at scale, and far less refugees. It took the pandemic for the belief that this model could work and be viable.
Delivery of the project depends on connectivity and the learners having devices. These have been the most significant challenges. Delivery of the virtual workshops is facilitated by Zoom. Some participants who might appear to not be engaging might have a technical or connection problem. Participants might come and go throughout the session due to connection issues and this can cause issues with breakout rooms and interacting with content.
Finding companies to hire refugees was difficult, as Na’amal is relatively new we are not as well known within the private sector as we would like to be. Moreover, the idea of refugees working remotely is still nascent, making it difficult to get companies to commit to hiring remotely. They are uncertain because they may know little about the population and often their education is not familiar to the companies, or they may have broken education experiences and employment gaps - making their CVs different to a regular worker.
Donors are reluctant to pay higher costs per learner for training. There is a lack of understanding that the skills gap that currently exists globally is in the medium to advanced digital skills, which cost more to train.
How they were overcome
The global pandemic as previously noted, allowed for a renewed perspective that remote work is not niche, could be viable for refugees and also has the potential to be scaled among this population.
Most important to overcoming the legislative obstacle is the remote work loophole; working as a freelancer as opposed to contractor. Using payments systems outside of the host country also proved useful. The equivalent of Wise was used as was an international systems payment for those who have identification.
Upflex is a potential option to improve the issue of connectivity. It is an innovative way to support workspace flexibility by providing a global network of co-working spaces in 5000 locations. We are exploring the possibility of partnering with them to offer learners the space and connectivity to work. We also overcame the obstacle of connectivity by providing devices to the learners along with data packages to support them during the training.
We believe the challenge of finding companies to hire refugees can be overcome through advocacy; by hiring partnerships with companies through circulating our work and advocating for it. Ensuring companies that the talent matches their needs and is up to the standard they require.
We believe that the issues for funding the training can be overcome if we measure the long term impact of all digital livelihood projects thereby assessing the real impact on lives. The short term measure that is commonly required by donors does not adequately reflect how lives are changed. We propose creating an outcomes tracker that can be used to measure impact in the medium to long term.
Results of the Good Practice
We have received positive feedback from alumni who have gone on to work in positions such as a virtual assistant in The Kedar Group. Our alumni have positions in companies including PwC, Black & Decker, RoRemote, and Meta.
One learner, Fidele K.Cyisa, says that after working with Na’amal he learnt how to deal with challenges, and improved his time management so now he is able to organise his tasks daily.
The project has improved the lives of refugees with upskilling and capacity building through training. We have a great focus on human skills, which are needed in changing work environments and are becoming increasingly important for employers. We are therefore offering companies the profile of candidates they are looking for; one with both great digital skills and strong soft skills.
By offering refugees and others the possibility to work globally, we are allowing them to earn a better salary than in the host community, and it allows them greater autonomy because they are working remotely.
"I contracted a Na'amal alumni as web site editing and administration support over a year ago, they have been a wonderful resource and addition to my freelance team!"
- Rowena Hennigan, Founder, RoRemote
How the project meets the GCR Objectives
Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries
By equipping them with the necessary skills, we are offering refugees the opportunity to work remotely, taking away the need for host countries to supply refugees with jobs, whilst still contributing to the local economy.
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
We offer soft skills and technical skills training to highly capable refugees, providing them with the resources to gain and maintain employment. The aim being that they can thrive themselves in the career they choose.
Objective 3: Expand access to third-country solutions
Once refugees have the digital skills, they can move to other countries without the limitation of employment. If refugees do not have the language for third country, they can continue working remotely.
We are hoping to expand to new geographies with different partners, as well as working in new and emerging sectors within the digital economy such as the metaverse. We are currently discussing possible projects in Nigeria and Kenya and plan on developing the business by engaging employers to find more hiring partners.
Further support required for the project to continue or scale up
In order to continue this programme, and particularly to scale it up, funding is the most important area that we require support in. The second most important is expanding collaboration with companies to increase hiring opportunities. We would also benefit from support in advocating for a policy shift that allows refugees to work remotely even if they cannot work locally.