The Impact of Remote Work on Refugees, with Lorraine Charles

Gabriela Molina

Lorraine Charles is a social entrepreneur and the co-founder and director of Na’amal, which facilitates remote work for refugees and vulnerable populations.

Lorraine Charles

Read the transcript

Luis:

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. I am your host, Luis, here as usual with a wonderful guest. My guest today is Lorraine Charles. She is a social entrepreneur and the co-founder and director of Na’amal, a business that facilitates remote work for refugees and vulnerable populations. Lorraine, welcome to the show.

Lorraine Charles:

Thank you. I’m really excited to be here. Really lovely to meet you today.

Luis:

It’s a pleasure to have you, and I’d like you to please tell us a bit more about your background and how you eventually came to this place where you are at now.

Lorraine Charles:

Yeah. So this is always an interesting story, because I always say I’m an unlikely social entrepreneur. I didn’t actually mean to set up an organization. It was kind of by accident. So as I said, I was a researcher. I was doing research on refugees in the Middle East, initially on education, but then later on into employment, and wanting to understand what challenges refugees face in employment in the region. And the barriers became apparent. Not only were there legal legislation that prevented them to access work formally, there also just weren’t enough jobs. And whilst there was a lot of training happening, and at that time I was doing research on Jordan and Turkey, a lot of training initiatives, lots of workforce readiness training in terms of coding and other technical skills, but everyone had quite a narrow view of what employment could look like.

Lorraine Charles:

And I started this research in 2016. That’s when I did my first trip to Jordan to understand this, and my big recommendation from that research was, why not reconceptualize employment to encourage refugees to work remotely outside national borders? Because there weren’t enough jobs where they were hosted. And I wrote about this. I wrote an article for the World Economic Forum at the end of 2017, talking about remote work for refugees. And of course at that time, the world was different. People weren’t interested. So I met my co-founder. We sort of started the organization, and everyone we spoke to, the narrative was, “Well, that’s never going to work. That’s not viable. There’s no way that’s going to scale.” All the naysayers were very doubtful about the ideas we had, but we pursued. Nevertheless, we pursued. We kept on going, and I kept on doing research and writing about it.

Lorraine Charles:

And in the middle of 2019, speaking to people again, lots of rejections. At the end of 2019, there was slightly more interest. When COVID happened, my inbox flooded, and suddenly people realized that remote work for refugees is viable. So in a way, COVID was our proof of concept. We did our first project in 2019, and we’re on our fourth and fifth … No, we did our first project in 2020, and now we’re doing the fourth and fifth consecutively now. So I always say, I didn’t mean to set up Na’amal. I saw the gap. No one was filling the gap, and I thought, “Well, if no one is doing it, this needs to be done.” So that’s what I did. I created this organization to fill the gap that I saw that no one else was doing.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s a pretty cool story. We’ll have link to … I actually read that article for the World Economic Forum. We’ll have a link to it in the show notes. I recommend people check it out. But I wanted to ask, why do you think there’s this gap in the people learning the trades, right? The people learning the technical trades, and then the lack of available jobs. Because one thing that I’ve been paying close attention since 2019 is the rise of technology in India specifically, where the number of startups, it used to be that India was the outsourcing place for the world, right? The west needed cheap technical labor, they got in touch with India for it. And the people that were good technically in India, they were working for low wages for the west.

Luis:

Now what we’re seeing is a rise of startup culture, and more startups in India, and exponentially so, right? The numbers from 2022 are something like 10 times the numbers from 2019. So I saw that in India, that there starts being … These people are still graduating with high technical expertise, but now they start finding demand in their country of origin. And I’m wondering why the same … Why do you think, is it just that the part of the world where you choose to act is just a little bit behind, and we’ll eventually get there? And why is that?

Lorraine Charles:

Well, I mean, so one thing, Na’amal works globally. We don’t just work in the Middle East. That’s where my research had started, but we actually work globally. But if we think about the talent that’s being trained, a lot of the refugee talent that go through the training programs graduate as junior talent. And junior talent are often more difficult to place, because they don’t have the experience. It’s especially difficult to place them in small organizations, because they don’t have the senior talent to mentor them. But as we see, this is changing. As organizations grow, all of the sort of smaller startups are scaling quite quickly, so there are senior talent. So I definitely feel hopeful that the junior talent will get places as startups grow, as they scale, and as they need more and more talent.

Lorraine Charles:

But the fact is, there’s a talent gap. Companies can’t find the talent that they need. This is a great report by RAND Europe, which sort of talks about this digital skills gap, and about everywhere in the world in Europe, in North America, in Australia, in Latin America, companies are struggling to find the tech talent they need. So there needs to be a reckoning with companies really thinking, “Okay, we can’t find senior talent. We have to get junior talent, and we have to develop them and build them to the capacity that we need.” So even if it takes longer to build this talent, I think the recognition will come very soon that this is the only way that they’ll be able to get the talent that they need.

Lorraine Charles:

I was going to say, so it’s interesting, the India story of India being the outsourcing place in the world. If you think about, historically, India has a good education system, and people have been … Yeah, people have been doing tech in India for a long time. So a lot of the talent which had come from India weren’t junior talent, because they’ve had time to work within their country, and then they were being outsourced. But now, I think it’s great this talent is sort of staying at home now, and the talent in India, it’s not the cheap outsourcing venues it once was. Now the cost are competitive with Western developers. So I think that’s actually good, so that as a company, we can’t think, “Okay, who has the cheapest talent?” We think, “Where do we get the best talent we need?” Not just the technical skills, but also the human skills, the soft skills. And that’s really what we focus on. How can you get the finished product? The good technical skills and also the really good soft skills to really make a difference within the company.

Luis:

Yeah. So I wanted to ask you, how did you come to this idea of helping refugees using remote, versus immigration, versus facilitating visas and immigration and things like that? Because usually when you think about refugees, you think about, well, people that are trying to find a new place to call their home. So the most intuitive for me would be to actually, to help them do that, and of course include a job. So how did you think about this, and why did you think that remote was that niche that you really needed to focus on?

Lorraine Charles:

The numbers of refugees who actually resettled, and this is the UNHR figure, is very small. Less than 1%. Even if we expand it to those who move through employment mobility, the numbers are still small. And all of this depends on national governments. It depends on employment in countries that have the jobs. And as we saw with the US, depending on the administration, the doors can be slammed shut by an administration that’s not immigration-friendly, despite the fact that these countries need talent. If the administration doesn’t believe in that, then it’s very difficult for people to move. So I wanted a model that can have an impact on individuals no matter where they are, what stage of life they are.

Lorraine Charles:

And some refugees are refugees in countries near to their home countries. So while a lot might want to leave, some may want to stay closer to home, within countries with a similar background. So by remote work, we’re giving people the opportunity to have the jobs that they would have in London, in New York, in Dublin, in San Francisco, without having to move to these expensive places. And we all know as a sort of immigrant, even if you’re a refugee or not, not a refugee, when you move to different places, often the barriers and the prejudices against you integrating socially are quite significant. Not saying that it’s not a good thing, but saying that if we give people the opportunity to work remotely, they have the choice to move. They don’t move because they have to, they move because they want to. So for me, remote work is a much, much more scalable option.

Luis:

Yeah. So I want to ask if you have any data on the local impact of initiatives such as yours, because I’ve had previously, in the podcast, someone from Barbados, where COVID had a huge impact, right, in their tourist industry, right? And they actually used remote work as a way to reboot the country and repurpose what they had built for tourism, and revitalize the local economy. Small countries can effectively do that. We have a similar case in Portugal. Portugal is a bit larger, so it’s harder to do it, to see the impact on a national scale, but we have a semi-independent region, the Isle of Madeira, where they’re doing that now as well. And again, it’s doing a lot to improve the local economy. So that’s basically, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that remote work can have on smaller countries or regions within slightly larger countries. So have you seen your work impact any location in such a way, or do you expect it to?

Lorraine Charles:

Well, remote work for refugees, the whole idea of it, it hasn’t been viable for such a long time. So whilst there have been niche projects happening, there has been no scalable version of this happening, but I hope it’s coming. We just need companies onboard to make this impact.

Lorraine Charles:

So if we think about it more anecdotally, as opposed to using data, which we don’t have as yet, someone working in a country with a lower cost of living, bringing in money from overseas, so this country has money coming in that doesn’t originate from their economy. So that’s one benefit. They have the refugees who previously were unemployed, because there are a lot of barriers to refugees being employed in the local economy. Even if they’re legally allowed to do so, there are barriers that are preventing it. These refugees are spending money in the host country. They aren’t spending it anywhere else, because often their countries of origin are unsafe. So they’re spending the money in their host community, where they’re investing.

Lorraine Charles:

So the impact can be great. There’s a huge multiplier impact. And what we often see is when refugees do well, they invest in the community where they are, and often refugees are entrepreneurial. So they might, as well as working, they might open a businesses as well. So whilst being employed, they could also employ other people by their sort of side business at the same time. So the impact really is a multiplier impact.

Lorraine Charles:

And I honestly feel that by allowing refugees to work remotely, A, by companies hiring them, companies are indirectly impacting the community. This person who works for this company, the company, I don’t know, selling a product or whatever, this person will speak highly of this company within their community. This company can have more customers from this community, because this person within this community is linked to that company. So in a way, this is an indirect form of marketing, which is not really … Which the company didn’t intend. The company may have no visions to sort of scale to that region, but there’s this employee who lives there, who is indirectly talking about the work that they do for this particular company.

Luis:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Again, the economical impact, I think that people sometimes underestimate it, because they’re not looking at it at scale, right? I mean, sure, if a Fortune 500 company employs like 10 employees in a Portuguese island, that’s not going to make a lot of difference. True. But if among the 500, if among the 500 Fortune 500 companies, each employ something like 20 or 25, right? Then that’s enough of a percentage of the island’s population, let’s say 2% to 5%, that it can really impact the local economy. It really is a matter of achieving critical mass, which considering that some company, the amount of talent that companies need these days, right, companies we were just talking before is, usually when I’m looking for clients for a distant job, right, I’m thinking small companies, and the small company for me today is a company with 100 to 200 people, companies that need thousands and thousands of people, that they’re hungry for talent, as you say. So it’s very easy to achieve critical mass in smaller locations.

Lorraine Charles:

Definitely. And also, even before we get to the point of critical mass, if 10 people or 20 people are employed in a small area, that can actually bring a lot of benefit to that small community, because those people have more money. Those people can open businesses, and then employ other people. So it isn’t just a direct impact, one person being employed by one company. Because often in these smaller communities, it’s a more collective society, so the individual who’s employed thinks of the community as well as the immediate family.

Luis:

All right. So let’s shift gears for a while, because I do want to know, you identified this niche, right? And you thought that remote work was the way to solve it, but how did you come to remote work in the first place? Tell me, what was the story, your own story with remote work? How did you figure that this was a way of working that worked? And then how did you proceed to apply that to the founding of your startup? Because we’ve been talking for 20 minutes now, and we haven’t even talked about the actual founding of a company, which is no easy feat, right?

Lorraine Charles:

Yes. Agreed. It certainly isn’t an easy feat, and it certainly feels difficult every single day. So I was working as an academic in a university, and as an academic, I did my classes, but I also did research. And I was doing this bit of research on the Arab Spring and women, and I asked a friend of mine to co-author this paper with me, and my friend lived, at that time, in Venezuela. I was living in Abu Dhabi. She was living in Venezuela. So we worked together on three publications whilst living in completely different countries, half a world apart, and it worked really well. So I thought, “Wow, this is a really good way to work. I don’t need to be the same city as someone to work with them.”

Lorraine Charles:

And then after that, I sort of did another consultancy for a company that was based in the UK. I was based between the UAE and the UK at that time, and I never met my team. I did research for them. And again, I didn’t meet them. I worked remotely. I did the work, they paid me. We had Skype calls at that time. It worked.

Lorraine Charles:

Then I got a job working for this NGO. I was living in Abu Dhabi. The NGO was based in the UK, and in the US. I worked with the US team. This is 2015. So I worked remotely for this organization. I worked from my living room, or from a coffee shop, working remotely myself. And I recognized, “Oh my goodness, this is a great way to work.” And then from that, I sort of started looking for other consultancies that weren’t in my city, in the country that I lived. I did work for another US NGO.

Lorraine Charles:

And all of my experiences working remotely as a parent, and then as a single parent, made me realize that remote work really helped me with my life. Because that’s when I had young kids at the time, and I would take them to their rugby practice, and do work in the coffee shop whilst they were training. So for me, remote work really helped me maintain my career while being a single parent, instead of navigating my two young children at the time. So for me, remote work is really powerful, and I always thought whatever I did, I always wanted to work remotely. I never wanted to go back to an office.

Lorraine Charles:

And I remember looking for jobs. I live in Abu Dhabi. Dubai is an hour and a half away, driving. I remember applying for jobs in Dubai, and I said to them, “Well, listen, I live in Abu Dhabi. Can I work remotely?” “Oh, no, you have to come to the office.” “But I’m doing research. Why do I need to come to the office?” “No, but that’s our policy.” And I said no to so many jobs because they wanted me to travel an hour and a half to sit on my laptop and do what I would do better from my living room.

Lorraine Charles:

So I was really convinced by remote work. So when doing this research, and recognizing the challenges, it was obvious to me, remote work, that’s the only way. There are no jobs where they live, but there are jobs elsewhere. How can we close the loop? And that’s why remote work was our big recommendation. And it was interesting, because it was the remote work community that found me initially. The sort of small group, which I’m sure you’re part of. Laurel Farrer found me, because after that, I’d written that article, and they said, “Wow, this is great. Remote work refugees. Where the remote work community?” They saw it before anyone else did.

Lorraine Charles:

So that’s what inspired me, and Na’amal is a fully remote company. We’re registered in the UK. We have people in … I have one team member here in Abu Dhabi. I have people in Lebanon, in Spain, in the UK. I have team members in the US. One in Indonesia. I have team members all over the world. We don’t need to be in the same place to get the work done.

Luis:

Okay. So I want to go back to the running of your company, and the founding of your company. But before, I’m just curious, because usually the biggest barrier is time difference, right? And yet the US people were okay with working with you on such a huge difference, whereas the people that were literally one hour away from you in the same time zone would not. Why do you think that is? Why do you think they wouldn’t even consider giving it a shot?

Lorraine Charles:

It’s the mind. I mean, I had fantastic teammates, the organization that I was looking for, and they were obviously ahead of their time, because there were other people who worked remotely as well. And I mean, my direct manager also lived in Abu Dhabi, but we didn’t have it … Well, we tried to have an office. It didn’t work, so he just said, “We work. We meet once a week. We meet one once every other week.” So it was fine. So the people that I worked for really saw the potential for, the work we’re doing could be done anywhere. And I had great teammates from that first organization. They were wonderful. I would stay up late. She would wake up early. We’d make it work.

Luis:

Yeah. Okay. Great. So let’s talk a bit about Na’amal. So first of all, just the building of the business itself, right? It’s something that I know that interests a lot of people. A lot of people still feel that when they’re creating a business, they still need face time at least to get funding, right? That no one is going to give you money unless they sit in a room with you. That’s a big deal. How have you dealt with that situation, with that challenge?

Lorraine Charles:

COVID. We couldn’t meet face-to-face. I mean, we couldn’t. It’s impossible. We couldn’t meet face-to-face. So because of COVID, we’ve had to develop relationships like this.

Luis:

Yeah. All right. Fair enough. But the flip side of that is that a lot of venture capital investment and startup funding dried up, right? So some people just decided, “Okay, if we can’t do it in person, we won’t do it.” So again, I’m wondering, how did you find the people who were willing to do that? And it’s fine if the answer is, “I don’t know. It just happened.” I’m just curious, but it’s absolutely fine if you actually didn’t consider it before.

Lorraine Charles:

Well, I mean, I guess we’re still bootstrapping, even though I detest that word, bootstrapping. It’s such a painful, terrible, disgusting word, but that’s kind of what we’re doing. We’re sort of managing. We haven’t raised any … We sort of have gotten grants from work that we do, and from partnerships, but we haven’t got investment, and that’s sort of the next step. Maybe, I don’t know if I should speak about the whole investment [inaudible 00:22:51], because I’ve got a very interesting perspective, because we’re a social business, we’re a social enterprise. We do have a profit margin, but I don’t intend to make billions of dollars for someone. The money that we make will go back to supporting people. Yes, we want investment, but we want investors that, yes, we will make money, but you aren’t getting … Any millions we make are going to go back to helping people. And I don’t feel the VC world is open to this. And I was just reading something this morning that female founders get 1.1% of funding in Europe. 1.1%.

Luis:

Wow. That’s very low.

Lorraine Charles:

Very low. Women are always told, “You need mentorship.” So many programs come, “Oh, with these top VCs, we’re going to give mentorship to women.”

Luis:

I mean, even accounting for the fact that there probably are less women founders, just because it’s perceived as a more hostile environment, I’m sure that there are many more female founders than 1.1%.

Lorraine Charles:

Oh. Many, many more.

Luis:

Right. So the proportion is really out of whack.

Lorraine Charles:

Yes. Yes. I mean, the fact is, women get asked different questions than men when they’re pitching. And women get asked what are called preventative questions. Men get growing questions. And as a woman, you’re often pitching to men who, often for societal reasons, structural biases, don’t see women as being as capable often business-wise as men are. But the fact is that companies that have women on their boards are more successful. Companies that have women in the C-suite are more successful. Startups that have women have a lower failure rate than men. So we’re proving that we are best, we’re equal if not better to men within businesses, but still there’s this massive imbalance in funding toward women. So maybe the people that are hearing this will sort of come and say, “We’re different,” but I challenge VCs, I challenge investors, be different. I challenge you.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s a great point. You said something that’s very interesting, and that I think shouldn’t be considered as a problem, that people who invest shouldn’t expect to make millions and millions of dollars. I do think that there’s a growing trend of VCs and people in the tech world that want to give something back. You see more people taking pledges, giving pledge, the give what you can pledge, et cetera, et cetera. And it’s interesting to see those kinds of initiatives as invest in a business that’s going to make you some money, but where a lot of your investment is actually going towards improving the world, improving people’s lives. So I do think that they’re starting to be a nice audience for the kind of business that you’re creating.

Lorraine Charles:

I agree, there is, but it needs to expand. It needs to grow. Because the fact is, most female founders have social businesses, and often the whole idea of a social business, people don’t see the economic value right away.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s a very shortsighted view, because just at the risk of stating the obvious, billionaires still need to live in the world where the other people live.

Lorraine Charles:

Exactly. Completely. That’s exactly the point.

Luis:

Unless they all go to Mars, which maybe that’s what they’re up to.

Lorraine Charles:

Exactly. Probably, but yeah, that’s it. We all need to live in this world. We all need people to have more opportunity. If you bring up the standards of living of more people, you get more customers. It makes sense, right?

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. Of course. Of course. So this took a wide but interesting detour, but let’s go back to the working remotely. So you have a big … Well, you have a reasonably sized team spread around the world. How do you keep all of these people in sync? What is your work process in managing your company and making sure everything works smoothly?

Lorraine Charles:

So I believe in a holacracy. We’re a flat organization, so there are no hierarchical structures. I don’t believe in that. Everyone has ownership of the work that they do, and yes, some of our work is project work, so we sort of train refugees. So we aren’t a recruitment company. We have projects that train refugees. So when the training is going on, that’s a sort of self-contained thing, and the program coordinator deals with all of that. So in terms of the other things, everyone is sort of quite autonomous in the work they do. We have meetings. We don’t have big group meetings, and we work mostly asynchronously. I’ll have a catch up with different colleagues every week to see where they are. We use WhatsApp quite a lot.

Lorraine Charles:

But I really believe in giving my team autonomy. And I brought them on board because they’re good at what they do. I definitely don’t need to manage every step of the way, because I brought them on because they can do things that I can’t do. So that’s why I have someone doing business development. That’s why I have someone developing, because they can do these things that I can’t. So it’s pretty autonomous and asynchronous, the way we work.

Lorraine Charles:

And we just manage the time difference. My one lady in the US, she’s a night owl, so she messages me at like 2:00 in the morning her time. That’s when she’s alert. We’re having a call at midnight, her time tomorrow, because that’s when she wants to meet. I’m like, “Great.” So yeah, we just manage with what we have.

Luis:

All right. So how you make everyone be on the same page, be in the same direction? I mean, I totally understand, and I do enjoy working like that. I think that makes a lot of sense, that, “Here’s what you do, here’s what you’re best at. I don’t have to tell you how to do what you’re best at. Just attack.” But there’s still a direction, right? The company still needs to move in a certain direction. And if nothing else, so that people can actually synergize with what others are doing, right?

Lorraine Charles:

Yeah. Well, and this is where having a really strong vision makes a big difference. Everyone knows when I meet with the team, when I speak with them individually, they know where we’re headed. They know what we need to do. Basically the bottom line is, we need refugees to get jobs. That’s the bottom line. Everything else we do is in service of that. Or the training, or the mentoring, the business development, everything is in service of that. So with that really one clear vision, it’s quite easy, because everything that we develop, everything that we do, is in service of this one main goal. And I think in a way, we’re sort of lucky that we sort of have one solid, underlying vision and purpose for what the organization does.

Lorraine Charles:

And I’m very open to different ways for this to happen, but everyone is really clear what the ultimate goal is. And often, I don’t think I recruit … People often come to me and say, “Hey, I love what you do. Can I be part of it?” So I very rarely have to go finding people. People just love what we do, because they see the purpose. I mean, we are really purpose-driven, and as a result, the people within the organization are equally purpose-driven, and I make everyone feel ownership of the company and what they do.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s definitely something that gets you good, good talent. I mean, obviously you’re a startup, right? Budget is a consideration, even though I’m sure you like to pay as much as you can, as much as people deserve, but we’ve all been there. We’ve all been there in that situation. And I know for a fact that I have friends and people I know that have passed on deals that would be almost double the salaries that they were going, just because they work in a structure such as that of your company. Where they feel like, “Okay. But here, I don’t really have a boss. The company has a leader, but that’s not the same as a boss. I can do the work I feel is the most beneficial for our direction, in the way that I choose, that’s worth a lot of money.”

Lorraine Charles:

Yes. Exactly. And that’s the sort of atmosphere that I want to create. I mean, I hope as we grow and expand, and as we have a bigger team, I hope I can keep this ethos, but as much as I can, I really want to keep everyone with this passion and this excitement for the work that we’re doing. And when we have small victories, when one of our learners does well, one of our learners gets a good job, one of our learners does well, I mean, it’s exhilarating for all of us. Like, “Wow. We’re doing it. We’re making it happen.”

Luis:

All right. Okay. So let’s talk a bit more about your personal way of doing work. How do you manage all of this in your daily basis? What are the tools that you can’t live without? What does your browser look like when you start your workday? How do you get everything together, in a technical sense?

Lorraine Charles:

I think I’m rubbish at that. I mean, while doing Na’amal-

Luis:

Join the club.

Lorraine Charles:

Whilst doing Na’amal, I’m also still doing research. I still publish. Even though every year, I promise myself no more academic articles, because it doesn’t pay, I still end up doing lots of academic stuff. So I still publish, so often I have lots of things and research that I need to do. Lots of things I need to edit, plus the dates they’re running of now, but I try to keep it as simple as possible. We don’t have a super big team, so we don’t have any complicated systems. It sounds silly, but for me, the one tool I can’t do without is WhatsApp, because often my teammates have a quick question, they WhatsApp me quickly, and we have that quick exchange. Yeah. For me, that’s the most … If WhatsApp didn’t exist, I would want to invent it.

Luis:

Yeah. Well, that would be a good invention, and then you’d be acquired by Zuckerberg, and you’d have all the money you could to do good in the world, right?

Lorraine Charles:

Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Completely. Exactly.

Luis:

Okay. That’s what happens. Just a small parenthesis about the academic articles not paying, that’s so … Because before I did that, I used to be a dental surgeon, and I distinctly remember, it’s a very interesting economics, the academic article economics. Because when I want to read an article, I need to pay something like $200 bucks for the privilege, but the person who wrote it doesn’t get almost anything.

Lorraine Charles:

Nothing. Nothing. You just get lots of pain and torture. Yes. When you have to review … I mean, you feel good when it’s published, but often I think, “Is this worth my time if I’m not being paid for this?” I don’t have a paid academic job. I have a research title, not a paid academic job, so no one’s paying me to do this. I’m not going to progress in any academic career by publishing.

Luis:

Exactly.

Lorraine Charles:

Yeah.

Luis:

Exactly. So that’s also something that someone should start changing in a reasonable-

Lorraine Charles:

Exactly. I agree. We’re trying to.

Luis:

Okay. So tell me about, if you could give … Let’s say if you had 100 euros to spend with every person working in your company, and you had to get the same thing for everyone, you can’t cheat by buying a gift card or a cash equivalent, nor give them the cash, what would you get them?

Lorraine Charles:

A hundred euros per person? That’s an interesting question. Okay. There’s this organization in Lebanon called Seth Jordan. They make beautiful handicraft by Palestine women. And they’ve got a … It’s sort of this Swiss or Italian lady and gentleman that founded it. They’ve got a boutique in Geneva, but all of the … And a small shop in Amman, Jordan as well. And they make beautiful, handmade stuff, Palestinian designs. I would buy one of these made by Palestinian refugees in Jordan. That’s what I would buy. Or I would buy any product made by refugees for my employees.

Lorraine Charles:

And actually, I want to say one thing. As a small organization, and I often have companies coming to me and say, “Hey use me for your marketing. Use me for this.” I always say, “I don’t work with any companies unless you hire refugees. I won’t work with you.” Because we are trying to give refugees jobs. I mean, obviously with Zoom and Google, maybe I don’t have a choice with those two. With any small organization, if you want to do business with us, you will have to hire refugees, and then you’ll be worthy of getting my money.

Luis:

Nice. Well, that’s great. That’s actually a great policy. So in that spirit maybe, or maybe not, my next question is, what is the purchase that you’ve made for yourself in the last year or so that really improved your productivity, work-life balance, whatever metric you’d care to measure related to your work?

Lorraine Charles:

Something I purchased in the last year that improves my productivity. So even though I love tech, I do everything online, I always have a notebook next to me. And whilst I have my tasks list electronically, I always write it down as well, because I feel as soon as … It’s always next to my lap, like my laptop. I sit down, I see it next to me, I think, “Okay, I have to do that.” So it sounds silly, but I always have notebooks, and I always buy multiple notebooks each time I go to the shop so that I don’t run out.

Luis:

Yeah. I’m smiling, because I can relate to that. I can relate to that. Right? In fact, for the to-do list in particular, I actually don’t get notebooks. I get index cards, so that I can actually be really sparse onto what I commit to, right? So I don’t over-commit.

Lorraine Charles:

Good idea. I’ll try that next. I’ll get smaller notebooks.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Do you have any favorite brand? I’m a boring Moleskine guy. That’s my go-to.

Lorraine Charles:

Oh, yeah. Me too. Moleskine, definitely. Definitely. Only. All the way. All the way. Definitely.

Luis:

Great. Great. Great. Okay. The next question is about … I like to frame it as giving, because what you use for yourself is not necessarily what you recommend or give to others. So I don’t know if you enjoy giving books, but if you do, what books do you give away most often?

Lorraine Charles:

So I’m not sure if I want to say this, because my sort of nerdy nature will come through, so-

Luis:

That’s fine. We’re all nerds here.

Lorraine Charles:

My initial research was in Middle East politics, and I did a lot of stuff on the GCC, and I sort of read a lot about the Israel-Palestine issue. So my favorite academic and advocate for Palestine is this guy called Ilan Pappe, and he’s got this wonderful book called On Palestine, and I have it just next to my computer. And I always say if you want to read anything about Palestine, read Ilan Pappe. He is brilliant, incredible, and I talk a lot about him because I’ve done a book project with him. We co-edited a book, a volume, and I’m a huge fan of his. So I always say his book are what I would recommend to people.

Luis:

All right. There we have it. We have the recommendation. So we move on to the final question. This one is a bit of a longer setup, but please bear with me, and you probably have a message to give here. So here’s the idea. Let’s say that we’re done with this COVID. Let’s assume we’re in a situation … I don’t know what’s the situation where you live, and everyone has their different situation, but let’s say that we reach a point where people can comfortably travel and have big dinners together. So you are organizing a dinner where in attendance are going to be the decision makers of the top tech companies from all around the world. Now, the twist is that the topic of the evening is remote work and the future of work, and the dinner happens at the Chinese restaurant. So you, as the host, get to choose the message that comes inside the fortune cookie. So what is the message that these people will be looking at when they crack open their fortune cookies?

Lorraine Charles:

So little do you know, I used to live in Taiwan.

Luis:

Okay.

Lorraine Charles:

So I know Chinese culture well enough. So I’d first of all say, “Xiexie,” “Thank you for coming.”

Luis:

Nice.

Lorraine Charles:

As tech companies, you have to hire diverse talent. That’s what I would say. “Hire diverse talent. Hire refugees. Pay for them to be trained. Pay for the pay for the talent you need.”

Luis:

Yeah. That’s a whole can of worms to open at the end of the podcast. But I always see my American friends that are so proud about the diversity culture in their companies. And I always see them, I say, “What do you mean by diversity? You’re just hiring Americans of many colors.” Right?

Lorraine Charles:

Yes. I always say exactly the same thing. That’s what I say. And I say, “True diversity is cognitive diversity. You hire the people that I work with, then I know you have diversity.” I say exactly the same to Americans. “You’re just hiring Americans who look different, who are different religions, but go to the same universities as everyone else.”

Luis:

Yeah. Same universities, read the same books. Not to disparage their efforts. I know that a lot of them are trying to do the right thing, but the true diversity is international diversity, right? Is when you get people from all around the world.

Lorraine Charles:

Agreed.

Luis:

Yeah.

Lorraine Charles:

That’s when you get the real magic happening, and that improves the performance of a company. Cognitive diversity is what’s required. That’s what I would say. That’s what I would challenge them to do.

Luis:

Okay. Well, that’s a lovely place to end, but I don’t want to go before I give you the chance to talk about your business, about Na’amal, and how can people learn more about it? How can they apply to hire and get to know better the diverse talent that you provide? And also, how can they reach out to you, get in touch with you to continue the conversation?

Lorraine Charles:

LinkedIn. I’m quite active on LinkedIn. Sometimes too active on LinkedIn.

Luis:

I know what that is. I know what that looks like.

Lorraine Charles:

I’m sure you do. Yeah. Yes. So reach out to me on LinkedIn. I mean, my message is to companies, we need companies to hire our talent. Despite the fact that they are junior talent, they have huge potential. They can do wonders to your business. Hire our talent. We have a mentorship program which supports our organizational growth, but also allows companies to have direct impact to the professional development of the talent. Be part of our mentoring program. Hire our learners. And for bigger companies, if you have 15 or 20 or 30 of one type of role you need, come to us. Offer to pay for a training. We can train 50 highly skilled refugees to do this particular job. You can take the top 20 or 30, and then the others we will find jobs for. But there, you’ll be doing a lot. You’ll be supporting communities globally and getting good talent that you need.

Luis:

Yeah. Okay. That’s a great pitch. I love it. I hope people will take you up on that.

Lorraine Charles:

Thank you.

Luis:

Lorraine, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for being a guest. This was a very enjoyable conversation.

Lorraine Charles:

Yes. I enjoyed it. Thank you very much. And please reach out to me, everyone.

Luis:

Yeah, please do so. You’ll find the links for everything in the show notes. Don’t forget to look that. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for being part of one more episode of the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about leading and building remote teams. I am your host Luis, and my guest today was Lorraine Charles, the co-founder of Na’amal. See you next week.

Luis:

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners, and the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me, and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners.

Luis:

Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast, click on your favorite episode, any episode, really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up, and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up, so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.

Luis:

And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration, and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world, because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who you need, and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob Podcast.

Whether because of legal issues or lack of jobs in certain regions, refugees often have a harder time receiving employment opportunities. But with remote work, that might change forever.

During this podcast episode, Lorraine Charles shares how remote work impacts refugees’ lives forever. They can now work for international companies without moving to different countries, improving their quality of life significantly. Additionally, this is also beneficial for their host communities as it boosts the economy.

Highlights:

  • Understanding the employment challenges refugees face
  • How remote work benefits refugees
  • Why remote work is more beneficial than immigration in some cases
  • Benefits of allowing refugees to work remotely
  • Challenges of getting investment (and why it is particularly harder when you’re a women founder)
  • How she manages her remote team
  • The importance of building a strong vision while leading a remote team

Book Recommendations:

 

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