This has been a big month in the news for refugees and the scale of the crisis can feel overwhelming. In this blog post we interview Katrina Too, Founder and Managing Director at Open Door Policy, a non-profit that connects refugees with remote jobs, often in customer support, giving them economic opportunity and stability.
PartnerHero is an employment partner for Open Door Policy which means we hire refugees who have been through the Open Door Policy training. This is part one of a two part blog series. This first installment focuses on Open Door Policy - what they do, how they do it and how you can be a part of it via an interview with Katrina Too, Founder and Managing Director at Open Door Policy. In part two we will interview someone who went through the Open Door Policy program to learn more about their experience as a refugee and finding work in a remote CX role.
Katrina, could tell us a bit about Open Door Policy?
Open Door Policy trains and connects refugees in limbo to remote work opportunities. I emphasize “in limbo” because we support refugees who have left their home because of war, terror or persecution and have arrived in a new country but are not yet resettled. It's in this part of the journey that we provide support. Open Door Policy puts refugees through an eight week employability training program and then connects them with employment partners that can offer full-time contracts, meaning full-time hours on a contractual basis.
What are the main goals of Open Door Policy?
The main goal is really to connect work-ready displaced individuals to sustainable employment - in the shortest time possible. Our focus is to raise economic equity. At this point in the refugees’ journey, when they are in limbo, there are three ways they get economic support. The first is donations from NGOs, the second is funds from families abroad and the third is employment in unstable, 3D jobs. In the past two weeks we’ve welcomed many Afghan students into the program. One particular individual told me of an uncle who had been supporting his mother and him but, with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, his uncle can no longer send funds. Our goal is to connect refugees with remote digital employment. These jobs can provide stability when so much is in flux.
What have you learned about refugees through your work?
That’s easy. The biggest learning is that refugees are just like you and me. Refugees have degrees. A lot of people we’ve met so far through Open Door Policy were able to pick up some level of education before disruption in their home countries occured. They have aspirations such as wanting to be digital marketers, and they should be given access to that learning and employment opportunity. Think about Ali Rustom (a PartnerHero employee who came through the Open Door Policy program). It's just a stroke of luck that we’re born on the other side of the world from where these wars are happening.
Another thing I’ve learned is that the refugee population is so diverse. The stereotype we have is the refugee in a camp - the populations we see on TV. The truth is, there are refugees among all of us. When we roll out our applications, 96% of people who apply have used Zoom and 60% are on LinkedIn. Remote work and the internet can democratize access to jobs no matter what situation a person may find themselves in.
What have you learned about creating opportunities for refugees?
I’ve learned that sometimes it’s important to slow down and really assess the system you are working in, to really take the time to research. Try not to impose. Instead, listen and observe and then figure out what the problem is and where the priorities really are.
One example is that we get offered a lot of free curriculum and other learning materials. Many people have also recommended that learners should work on getting various certifications. The truth is, we work with a lot of refugees who are ready to work tomorrow and much of that training might be unnecessary (many program applicants have already completed various online courses). They just need an employment opportunity. What we really need are employment partners like PartnerHero.
We’re looking for sustainable work opportunities which means full time hours with stability and consistency. We want them to feel like they’ve found a family at work, a place they can go to and feel secure when other parts of their lives may not feel that way.
You run training programs for refugees and then place them with employment partners. What is the training about?
The scope has increased a lot in the last few months. We started with a focus on customer experience skills, helping refugees get up to speed on international standards and the role that technology plays. That route has been a great pathway for entry level jobs in customer support, like the ones that we’ve partnered with PartnerHero on. Now we’re focusing on business skills and embedding a business mindset. For example, most of us have bought something online. We’re teaching what happens behind the scenes after the online order is placed. What is a B2B vs. a B2C business etc? What is customer experience and why does it matter for businesses today? Our curriculum focuses on remote work productivity topics like time management, growth mindset and effective communication in remote settings.
What regions do you work with?
We were founded in May of 2020 and are focusing our efforts in the APAC region right now as there is so much potential there. In Malaysia alone there are over 10 different nationalities of refugees, from people from Myanmar to Afghanistan and Syria. Our goal is to find and train those who are employment-ready and connect them to a job as quickly as possible.
Given the focus on Afghanistan these past few weeks, how does Open Door Policy engage with refugees from Afghanistan?
60% of our upcoming cohort is made up of refugees from Afghanistan, and many of them still have family back home. We support them with the tools and connections to find remote employment, and they, in turn, can increase financial support for their immediate family members who are still in Afghanistan.
Tell us about the relationship between Open Door Policy and PartnerHero.
PartnerHero and Open Door Policy are values-aligned. Not all companies care about impact sourcing but PartnerHero is a great partner for us because they provide the technology tools that their employees need, they provide training so refugees can thrive in their new roles and, perhaps most importantly, the culture helps refugees feel like they’ve found a safe home, at least in the work part of their lives.
PartnerHero recently hosted an Open House for our current mentors and staff to learn more about the hiring process that you have, how future cohorts can be better prepared and coached for opportunities with PartnerHero. We were able to receive insight on the expectations around English level or sample skill exercises to ensure cohorts are successful.
How can someone reading this blog post help?
If you are someone who may be interested in hiring refugees, come to our info session on how to hire refugee talent (more info here) or book a consultation on our website about becoming an employment partner.