BLOG POST

September 29, 2022

September 29, 2022

How technology and community can transform the lives of refugees

In this article we hear from the COO of Beam, Seb Barker, who co-founded the social enterprise back in 2017 as the first crowdfunding platform for homeless people. Seb shares the story of Kateryna, a refugee from Ukraine who was able to raise money through Beam to pursue her career in the UK.

I want to introduce you to a woman called Kateryna. From her hometown near Kyiv, she regularly heard explosions, helicopters and aeroplanes circling above. When a nearby town became occupied by Russian troops, she had no choice but to leave. A few months ago, Kateryna and her young son arrived in the UK hoping to build a new life after escaping the conflict in Ukraine.

Kateryna was taken in by a host family in North London and her son settled into school. However, with the Homes for Ukraine coming to an end and fears that many Ukrainians will end up homeless, refugees like Kateryna face a lot of uncertainty about their future in the UK.

Since launching Beam five years ago, I’ve seen first-hand how refugees don’t get the same opportunities to nurture their natural talents. Studies suggest the unemployment rate among refugees is as high as 18 per cent. Not to mention, nearly 1.4 million don’t have access to government welfare, so getting a job is the only way to put food on the table and a roof over their head.

Thankfully, there are some positive signs of progress being made. 

Back in April, London Mayor Sadiq Khan outlined his plans to ensure that refugees fleeing Ukraine and arriving in London could access thousands of free adult education courses funded by City Hall - from English language training to courses in growing sectors. As Khan said in a LinkedIn post:

"Accessing good jobs, learning new skills and getting to know people in their new country will be crucial for Ukrainians to rebuild their lives after experiencing unimaginable upheaval and trauma."

It’s an ethos we share at Beam. We’re working with local councils like Haringey to find stable jobs and homes for Ukrainian refugees. However, we also believe it’s critically important to extend the same approach to refugees fleeing other parts of the world. For example, we’ve partnered with the City of London to rehouse Afghan refugees as part of their resettlement scheme. Working out of bridging hotels, we’ve provided dozens of households with housing advice, funding and direct access to ethical landlords. 

Unfortunately, refugees often face multiple barriers that lock them out of the job and housing market, leaving them homeless and destitute. So while Mr Khan’s offer of free education courses is a positive step forward, we also need to consider the other barriers, including childcare costs, tech access, lack of support networks or low confidence among this group. 

This is where Beam’s crowdfunding model can make a real difference. Each refugee gets a caseworker who creates a fundraising page on our website, telling their story and itemising and linking all financial barriers e.g. training, work tools, travel costs, smartphones, childcare and rental deposits. 80 percent of donations are split equally between everyone, allowing everyone to reach their target within an average of 17 days. It’s a truly personalised approach, built around the unique strengths and interests of each person - meaning they don’t have to settle for just ‘any job’. 

We also build a support network around each refugee. Crowdfunded donations come from members of the public, who want to play their part and support the most vulnerable in their community. And “community” is the crucial piece of the puzzle here. We know that having a crowd of people back and believe in you helps build confidence during incredibly difficult transition periods. We also know that community support from the crowd, whether in the form of confidence-boosting messages or offers of work experience, can improve someone’s chances of getting a job.

Finally, we also partner with forward-thinking employers in a range of sectors, who hire refugees through Beam to diversify their workforce and fill skills shortages. Like Javad, a survey engineer from Iran who is now earning a living as a digger operator. Or Fesshaye, a refugee from Ethiopia who is now working as a lorry driver. In the past year, 100% of the refugees we’ve supported have sustained work - with many getting promoted and adding incredible value to the organisations they work for.

Now let’s return to Kateryna. Kateryna went to Enfield council for support, who referred her to Beam. Using Beam, she raised £1,683 to fund a diploma in translation, a language tutor, travel costs and work clothes. A few weeks later, and with the support of her Beam caseworker, she landed a full-time job as an admin assistant at a medical centre in central London. Her ultimate goal is to become an interpreter - a dream she’s inching closer towards each day.

After starting work, she sent this message to her supporters:

“I’m so glad and so happy to be supported by all of you. My purpose was to become independent, like I was before the war. And now I’m almost there. I’m really happy to have such an amazing opportunity to grow. Once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Kateryna’s happy ending is only possible through collaboration. It requires everyone in the ecosystem to play to their strengths - government, charities, employers, members of the public and tech start-ups - so that every refugee in the UK has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

To find out how to get involved with Beam's refugee support, go to beam.org/for-refugees  

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