Chatterbox - language learning taught by refugees

 

Mursal Hedayat explains how she started Chatterbox, a project employing refugees to teach their native languages.

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Tell us about yourself and what causes you're working on.

I’m currently working on a project helping refugees better integrate into their adopted homes, called Chatterbox.

We recruit and train displaced people to teach their native languages to students both online and in-person. This provides paid work and experience that lead to better social and economic outcomes for the community.

This is something that is quite close to my heart as a former refugee, and I hope that my close personal insight into the issue will result in greater social impact through the enterprise.

What motivated you to get started with your cause?

I came up with the idea for Chatterbox by observing the gap in employment opportunities for the very large population of refugees who arrive to the UK with advanced degrees and valuable professional skills and experience.

They are often prevented from using their ample talent to benefit themselves and society, with many becoming trapped in low-skilled, low-paid, and sometime exploitative work that erodes their future employability.

Language teaching with Chatterbox is a catalyst for better employment outcomes for refugees by helping them to regain their professional contacts, confidence, and crucial local work experience so that they can move onto even better opportunities.

What did it take to get your cause off the ground?

In the early days of Chatterbox I was working on the social enterprise for free from Monday to Friday at the beautiful EdSpace co-working building who were our first sponsors.

Saturdays and Sundays were also spent working full time on paid projects that covered my living expenses.

After two months of 7-days-a-week working, I was thankfully accepted on the Bethnal Green Ventures tech-for-good accelerator which provided the seed capital and development opportunities that helped Chatterbox get to where it is today.

How have you attracted supporters and grown your cause?

I am incredibly grateful to the unimaginably generous and talented team of volunteers who have helped to bring Chatterbox to life over the last year.

They have generally approached us themselves after reading about our work in the news or hearing about us through friends.

The issue of how to look after refugees is one of the defining issues of our time and it’s no surprise that so many people feel very passionately about improving the situation.

What's the story behind the model and sustainability of your cause?

Chatterbox is a social enterprise generating an income through sales of tuition via our website and through organisational contracts.

This income is used to pay the Living Wage Foundation’s rate and above to our tutors, to cover our organisational expenses, and to scale our impact.

What are your goals for the future, and how do you plan to accomplish them?

The next task is to scale Chatterbox to benefit as many refugees as possible whilst also becoming financially sustainable.

To do this, we need additional finance to grow our team and fund our runway until we achieve this goal.

What are the biggest lessons you've learned so far?

The biggest lesson I have learned so far is that everyone is basically making it up as they go along. As a result, more often than not, the status quo is designed by peoples' hurried best guesses as opposed to careful rationalisation.

The down side of this is the disorder and inefficiency we see today that can make people’s lives very tough indeed.

The upside is that there is an incredible amount that can be improved with rather little effort if you have the guts and hustle to get started.

What's been most helpful to you on your journey?

Our biggest advantage has been the talented group of individuals we have been able to attract as volunteers to build and create Chatterbox with.

They have helped us with everything from SEO to event management, and we wouldn’t have achieved so much in so little time and with so little funding without them.

What's your inspirational advice for aspiring activists?

YOLO. Just do it. And any other one of the millions of sayings that tell you to go with your gut.

Life is short and you should be doing what makes you feel most fulfilled and happy.

If that is creating positive change in the world then you should especially listen to this advice!

What books would you recommend aspiring activists should read?

I think a good understanding of economics is essential for people interested in social change. Some of my favourite reads are:

What other activists do you admire?

My biggest source of inspiration is the network of social entrepreneurs I have had the privilege of meeting through Year Here, Bethnal Green Ventures, Nesta, and other programmes.

Where can we go to learn more? (Website, social media links)

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