Stone & Chalk participated in an intern program with RefugeeTalent for the first time last year. This inspirational organization pairs intelligent, qualified refugees who have a wealth of skills and knowledge with corporate companies, NGOs and startups looking to tap into neglected talent, promote diversity, and better the world in which we live.
Stone & Chalk resident and board member Andrea Gardiner, founder of Jelix Ventures, met Naseer Shafaq through the program. An accomplished Afghani refugee who lost his job when his employer became insolvent, Naseer had been unemployed for 18 months before speaking to RefugeeTalent co-founder Nirary Dacho about his struggles.
Andrea hired Naseer initially as an unpaid intern when she first started Jelix. Today, Naseer works in the heart of Sydney’s CBD with the ATO as a Tax Practitioners Board Officer. We spoke to both of them to learn about their journeys, and time together…
Naseer, would you mind telling us a little bit about your experience job-hunting and how you came across Refugee Talent?
Naseer: The job seeking process was extremely hard and heartbreaking for me. People only saw my name, and the words ‘Kabul’ and ‘Afghanistan’; they didn’t see me as a person or consider my skills and experience. I felt like I had failed in Australia for a long time. I had a good job in Afghanistan on far better pay than I am on now and lots of international travel.
I came to Australia on a skilled immigrant visa, not on a boat, but we’re all painted with the same brush. I was devastated every time I went to the unemployment office. The representative to whom I had been assigned never listened. I repeatedly expressed my eagerness to work but she never did anything to assist me. I began looking for jobs in early 2015, and made no progress in 18 months during which I applied for over 700 jobs and didn’t get a single interview.
I applied for over 700 jobs, and didn’t get a single interview.
Nirary, co-founder of RefugeeTalent, encouraged me to apply to Stone & Chalk. I got a call soon after, asking me if I would be interested in working with Andrea. She hired me as initially as an unpaid intern with her brand new company, Jelix.
Did you ever receive an explanation as to why you weren’t being considered for a job?
Naseer: Never. I would only receive emails that said, ‘Unfortunately you aren’t a good fit at this time, but we’ll keep your CV on file.’ No one ever explained why I wasn’t being interviewed.
Andrea: Naseer and I discussed his experience and concluded that the real explanation was prejudice; racism. I used to work at Lehman Brothers, with the cream of the world’s best universities. Naseer has similar intellectual firepower, is highly competent, diligent and kind.
On one occasion, I gave Naseer and an ex-senior investment banker a complex task that a blue-chip accounting firm had messed up, and both returned the same answer in the same time.
Whatever I asked Naseer to do, he researched how to do it and went on to do a great job.
At an Innovation Bay breakfast event, I introduced Naseer to a partner at Deloitte who was so taken with Naseer’s story he published a blog about it within a few hours. This received lots of attention raising our profile and leading to invitations to other events and helpful introductions. An invitation for me to speak at a startup event in Afghanistan in October came with the reassurance that I would be provided with bullet proof car transport to and from the airport!
Andrea, how did you come across RefugeeTalent? What was your experience hiring Naseer?
Andrea: I learned of Refugee Talent when Stone & Chalk launched its ‘Techfugee’ intern program. I hired Naseer because I needed his particular accounting and tech skills and I hoped that the work experience and networking opportunities that Jelix could provide would help him obtain a full-time job. There was something fundamentally wrong about a man of his calibere and keen to work having no option but to support his family of 6 on the dole for 18 months. He has worked for the UN and British Consulate in Afghanistan and speaks 5 languages fluently including Japanese.
I was shocked when Naseer was seriously reprimanded by his unemployment officer for taking an unpaid internship with Jelix. In the context of his 700 failed job applications it would have been helpful to support his lateral thinking and effort to try something different to get a job. Naseer is to be commended for his initiative as these efforts led to three part-time paid jobs which in turn led to two full time paid job offers.
We’d love to hear from the both of you about your experience at Stone & Chalk. Can you tell us more?
Naseer: I was thrilled to be working at Stone & Chalk, because I was finally coming into the city, and working from 9 to 5. Even though I wasn’t paid initially, the experience was immensely valuable and led to part time paid work with other startups resident at Stone & Chalk, Payreq and Advisor Ratings.
I went on to work for Payreq, and then Advisor Ratings after working with Andrea, and it was this experience that enabled me to obtain my job at the ATO today.
Andrea was also generous enough to pay me for all of my past work once her business took off.
Andrea: Naseer was a pleasure to work with and highly capable so I promoted him widely. Payreq needed someone to help them, so he began working there one day a week. Later, on learning that Advisor Ratings were losing a team member, I encouraged them to consider Naseer.
He started working for them one day a week, which rapidly turned into three days a week. Shortly after the ATO offered him a full time role and so did Advisor Ratings.
Naseer, can you tell us more about how your roles with Jelix, Payreq and Advisor Ratings influenced your successful ATO job application?
Naseer: My experience at Advisor Ratings was directly related to my work at the ATO. This allowed me to perform well in the interview, at the end of which the interviewers said, ‘We’ll hire you.’ But, the full credit goes to Andrea because she gave me a start and made real efforts to promote me and in particular, sell me to Advisor Ratings.
Andrea: Naseer is a quintessential gentleman and his wife is the best cook ever. The food she treated myself and my family to as a ‘thank you’ for helping Naseer, was some of the best I have ever eaten. My son was in raptures about it. … She should really open a restaurant.