Welcome to our blog series updates on Lever for Change's 2021 Swift Grants. In May 2021, Lever for Change introduced this Award to provide small grants to members of the Bold Solutions Network for collaborative projects. These grants allow some of the world's top problem solvers to leverage their expertise and work together to find innovative solutions in their respective fields. We are excited to share updates on the progress and impact of these projects as they unfold. Stay tuned for more information on the 2021 Swift Grants and the work being done by the Bold Solutions Network.
Lever for Change is excited to share an update on the collaboration between Talent Beyond Boundaries as a 2021 Swift Grants Awardee of the Bold Solutions Network. This partnership highlights the significance of creating employment opportunities for refugees in Lebanon, showcasing the success of a program that provided job training, workshops, and job fairs for refugee professionals, resulting in 134 job offers and the chance for refugees to escape poverty and build a better future for themselves and their families.
Creating Employment Opportunities for Refugees In Lebanon
“Are you?... I don’t think I believe it. You’re positive they meant me?” asked Samer nervously to one of our staff members over the phone. Based in Lebanon, he had just received a job offer with a prominent hospital in the United Kingdom as a Nurse in their Emergency Department. He had interviewed with them just ten days prior through a job fair hosted by our team at Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) and our close partner, the Global Education Movement (GEM) at Southern New Hampshire University, thanks to support from the Lever for Change Swift Grant. “This doesn’t feel possible, it’s either a mistake, or I must be dreaming.”
Landing a job offer with a major company - let alone in a different country - can be a thrilling moment for anyone. The instinct to begin planning and envisioning the next stage of one’s life is a natural and exciting emotion. Yet for those who have been restricted from such dreams - including refugees like Samer - the feeling carries with it an entirely different level of depth and meaning.
Up until very recently, most refugees globally have either been severely disadvantaged from or entirely blocked from the majority of international employment pathways around the world as they were designed without their particular circumstances in mind. For example, lack of a passport or the inability to show obligatory proof of funds - basic yet common challenges faced by refugee professionals - lead to automatic visa application denials, even when there is an employer on the other side eagerly awaiting their arrival. With little option to work abroad and few legal alternatives in their countries of asylum, most refugees globally find themselves in an unfortunate limbo. They are left either to enter the informal economy, where they often become subject to exploitation, or towards protracted unemployment, where they must rely on meager humanitarian support while watching their hard-won skills atrophy.
Samer is one such refugee. Despite years of training as a nurse in Syria, laws in Lebanon – the country he fled to in 2016 due to war - only allowed him to legally work in limited professions, including construction, agriculture, and janitorial services. While the 29-year-old lived a modest life prior to the conflict in his home country, life as a refugee in Lebanon proved unbearable. The latest financial crisis has left three-quarters of the state in poverty and more than 88% of its Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in disastrous conditions, according to the UN, with almost half of Syrian families now food insecure.
In recent years, pioneering governments in countries like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom have launched new skilled migration programs to accommodate refugee circumstances to enable qualified refugee professionals like Samer the option to escape such situations and immigrate internationally using their skills.
To help increase awareness of and access to these pathways, Lever for Change awarded our team at TBB and GEM a Swift Grant last year. Through this funding, we were able to run a series of workshops for refugee professionals on how to improve their job applications and employability, followed by both virtual and in-person job fairs between the candidates and international employers. The results exceeded our expectations.
There were three primary components to the project: (1) Training to refugee students and professionals on how to improve their employability and job applications with international employers; (2) A workshop for employers on hiring refugees and ensuring adequate integration in the workplace; and (3) Employment events to enable refugees to meet and interview with international employers interested in hiring them full-time or via internships.
Job-Readiness Training for Refugee Students and Professionals. For the training, GEM, alongside local partner LASer in Lebanon, provided in-person and virtual workshops to 101 refugee students and professionals across the Bekaa Valley, Southern Lebanon, and Tripoli. The participants were introduced to international employment pathways and then provided targeted lessons on topics such as how to give an elevator pitch about themselves, write a CV and cover letter, and conduct a job search using platforms such as LinkedIn. In addition, TBB provided mock-interview support to over 200 refugee candidates using volunteer professionals who conducted 1:1 practice sessions, as well as enabled access to useful courses online.
Refugee-Employment Training for Employers. There were nine employers total who participated in the job fairs from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Recruiting positions included Software Engineers, Nurses and Nursing Aides, Carpenters, Digital Artists, and Pharmacy Aides, among others. Employers were provided with an understanding of the challenges many refugees face that may impact their job applications - including gaps on their resumes due to unemployment from their situations and poor internet and Wi-Fi to sustain a smooth interview process. Topics, including integration practices after arrival, were also discussed.
Employment Offers. Prior to launching the job fairs, we anticipated opportunities for 100 refugee candidates, including 30 offers of 3-month internships and 70 offers for full-time work internationally. Refugees who would receive full-time offers would be sponsored by employers in order to immigrate abroad. Quickly, we discovered that most of the employers were not interested in the internship option and wanted to hire full-time right away. While we were surprised by this preference, we were also thrilled as it was overall a better long-term outcome for the candidates. After three virtual and one in-person fair, we received 134 job offers. This number will likely increase as await the results of the in-person fair, which took place just a few weeks ago in early March 2023!
“I'm pleased to have been able to participate in this session because it has been so inspiring. Excellent outcomes from really fascinating material and method. I learned a lot about CV, Cover letter and LinkedIn. The presentation was excellent.”Jana, Job-Readiness Workshop Attendee and Refugee in Lebanon
Challenges and Lessons Learned
- Logistical Challenges in Lebanon
While our team in Lebanon has been dealing with electricity shortages and blackouts for many years, the enhanced crisis across the country has made the process of managing any form of virtual communication and event infinitely more challenging. This reality is particularly nerve-wracking during virtual job interviews, where strong connectivity is essential to allow a refugee candidate to properly understand the questions from the employers and articulate his or her skills. Unfortunately, we dealt with our fair share of issues in facilitating the job interviews that could not have been avoided. While we attempted to ensure backup Wi-Fi through prepaid internet cards, oftentimes, the cards would not work. We also attempted to have candidates come to our offices when we anticipated issues, but many refugees were too afraid to travel by car as they were undocumented and could risk being caught and deported. As such, our greatest tool was to prepare the employers as much as possible in advance to anticipate any challenges. And when the interview was too difficult to understand, we would request to reschedule and, in some cases, follow up with a recorded video from the candidate so that they could at least get a sense of his or her personality. In desperate times, we got creative!
It is also important to note that these challenges impacted our general timeline for the job fairs on numerous occasions. We intended to have completed all by September last year but extended it by six months due to the issues on the ground. In addition, the in-person fair was rescheduled three times due to concerns from the employers about the on-going situation in the country. An outbreak of Cholera last fall led to a final decision to move the fair to Jordan, where conditions are stable, and allow candidates in Lebanon to participate virtually.
- Jobs vs. Internships
We were quite surprised that employers preferred to hire full-time rather than offer internships. We assumed the latter would be more appealing as they would not have to fully commit right away and could spend time getting to know the candidates first. That said, we believe there might be two possible reasons for this: 1) The positions being recruited for were in very high demand and desperately need to be filled. We assume employers didn’t have time for the virtual training period and, knowing the visa might take a while, wanted to jump as quickly as possible into bringing people over; and 2) With exception to a few positions in tech, most of the roles that the employers were recruiting for were not ideal for internships. With that said, we still strongly believe in the power of internships, particularly in providing refugees with new skills and the valuable experience of engaging with international employers. We also think it is a useful tool in giving more skeptical employers who might be hesitant about hiring refugees internationally the chance to engage with them and build relationships. We will continue to test this idea and see how we can make it work in the future.
- Bulk Recruitment is the Most Strategic
While we expected to include more employers in the job fairs, we made the strategic decision to eventually limit this number once we had commitments from several major companies - including the one Samer is going to work for - to hire candidates in bulk. We realized it would be more expensive and time-consuming for our team to manage numerous employers who wanted to hire just 1-2 refugees versus a smaller number who wanted dozens or more at a time. We are happy with and proud of this decision and are confident that it led to high-quality nature of the events and outcomes!
- Employers Prefer Personalized Experiences
Finally, while the overwhelming majority of feedback we received from employers was positive, several noted that rather than a job fair that groups them all together, they would have preferred to have an individualized hiring experience. In some cases, particularly for healthcare employers in the UK, we were forced to do this for logistical and scheduling reasons and we did see a high number of offers as a result. This is something we will consider and look at for future events.
Impact & Looking Forward
While the actual running of the workshops and job fairs was admittedly more costly and time-consuming than anticipated, the support from the Swift Grant was integral in getting us launched and testing this very effective recruitment method. We will continue to develop, enhance, and perfect it moving forward using the lessons and momentum from this experience.
It is important to highlight that there are now 134 refugees who have access to full-time employment thanks to this support. When you add their family members - including spouses and children who will travel with them - that’s over 300 people who will be lifted from poverty and extreme vulnerability with no access to a durable solution and future. Refugees like Samer are not only going to be able to once again earn a living and access their basic needs, but their children will be able to grow up with the fundamental right to dream. There are few things more precious.
An immense thank you to everyone at Lever for Change for this wonderful and meaningful support. We look forward to continuing to create more transformational impact and together.
This is the fifth and final installment in a series of articles describing the impact of funding through Lever for Change's 2021 Swift Grants. Lever for Change was born of the success of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change challenge and spurred the philanthropic sector to rethink its approach to achieving impact at scale. Founded in 2019 as a nonprofit affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Lever for Change has influenced over $1.3 billion in grants to date and provided support to more than 145 organizations.