26 Oct 2016

Chatterbox: employing refugees to teach their native languages

By Guest

We are now over half way through the Autumn 2016 programme and Demo Day is in sight. So we thought it a good time to sit down with the teams for a chat about their ventures. Ellie Penney from Chatterbox is up first (pictured on the right alongside Chatterbox founder Mursal Hedayat).

What problem is Chatterbox tackling?

Chatterbox arose from the insight that despite having above average levels of education and training, refugees in the UK are much more likely to be unemployed and in poverty. Mursal, Chatterbox Founder, understands this first-hand through the experience of her mum, who arrived in the UK as a refugee but also as one of only five female civil engineers graduating from her cohort at Kabul University. Settled in one of the world’s most developed economies, her years of industry and sacrifice translated into a decade of joblessness and underemployment.

With the ongoing refugee situation, the need for employment solutions that more efficiently integrate refugees into their new homes is becoming more urgent. Refugees in the UK continue to experience widespread discrimination against their overseas work experience and qualifications, and a lack of accessible options for entering into skilled employment. By recognising refugees’ cultural capital and language abilities, we aim to provide accessible, stimulating employment that helps, rather than hinders, professional advancement.

How are you going about solving that problem?

Chatterbox works with highly skilled and motivated refugees, training and employing them to teach their own language. We tap into their latent economic potential to elevate their standing in the labour market by helping them accumulate local work experience and relevant professional networks. In this way, we challenge the damaging mischaracterisation of refugees as burdens to the state rather than individuals who can make significant positive contributions, given the chance.

What has been the best piece of advice you have been given whilst working on your venture?

Choose which advice you listen to! The BGV programme is a great place to really interrogate your assumptions and make use of mentors’ experience, but you have to stay focussed. It has been really helpful to have the BGV team to consult with on our strategy.

What is the big vision for Chatterbox?

To begin with we’ve launched our service to universities and we aim to continue expanding this across UK campuses and globally. We are also looking for opportunities to launch our product for businesses across industries such as construction, computing, finance, and professional services. Tailoring matches based on refugees’ professional backgrounds and clients’ needs will allow refugees to build networks and knowledge in industries where they may wish to gain employment in the future. This also benefits clients, who receive unrivalled sector-specific linguistic training as well as global industrial insights from tutors with first-hand experience working in those areas.

The challenges the UK is struggling with in refugee integration are being experienced in similar ways across Europe, and we would like to see Chatterbox expand to offer opportunities to more refugees, focussing on Germany and Sweden.

How can the BGV community help you out?

We need to develop our network within relevant businesses, so if any BGV community members can connect us with potential service users that would be fantastic.


eleanor.chatterbox@gmail.com  /  mursal.chatterbox@gmail.com