how we hire: empowering refugees and championing worker rights at somos ✊🏾

updated on 11 June 2024

introducing our behind the scenes series! πŸ“½οΈ

welcome to our first ever behind the scenes post! 🌟

in this exciting new series, we'll be pulling back the curtain to give you an inside look at how we operate at somos. 🫣

from our hiring practices to our daily operations, we'll be sharing it all!

we believe in transparency and each quarter we'll provide insights into how our work intersects with language, migrant and worker rights, education, digital access, and mental health and wellbeing 😍

at migration summit earlier this year, our team spoke a lot about our hiring approach for refugees, the types of benefits, rights and co-ownership opportunities we believe in and our plans for the future.

the upshot was that a number of great refugee candidates got in touch to see if we had any roles open in the team. 

we aren't hiring at the moment but wanted to share our process and approach for a few reasons...

1️⃣ so that when we do hire next, you have all the info you need well in advance!

2️⃣ to be as transparent as we can about the process, package and benefits.

3️⃣ to share how we go about creating opportunities for refugees in limbo. 

4️⃣ to encourage best practice around rights and protections for refugee team members... 

excited? ok let's dive in!

khawar πŸ‘‹, founder & ceo @ somos

fast facts πŸŽ‰

⭐️ if you're new, we're somos! our mission is to empower language teachers to earn and live well, championing language, migrant & worker rights along the way.

⭐️ as an early-stage social enterprise, we're committed to embedding our value system into our hiring process.

⭐️ in september 2022, we made our first entry-level hires. we partnered with the amazing open door policy to recruit refugees in limbo, who can't work locally, into remote roles with us.

⭐️ our mission-aligned recruitment approach has its challenges, especially in terms of structuring, facilitating payment, and team management. we thought it would be useful to share our experience 😊

⭐️ our program is designed to work for us and our team, but we're aware that the lack of regulatory oversight in this space creates vulnerability and exploitation risk for refugee workers everywhere.

⭐️ by sharing the legal and practical protections we've put into action, we're hoping to encourage others to do the same and help reduce these risks as much as possible.

⭐️ our honest opinion is that the protections required won't be sufficient without a massive global recalibration of attitudes towards migrant and worker rights more broadly but we'll be doing what we can, even if it's in a small way, at a grassroots level. 

building with, not for: co-designing an inclusive hiring process πŸŒ

there's a lot to think about when starting any business but with a social enterprise it's critical to have social justice built into every process from the get go!

social justice goals aren't just objectives to be hit "at the end". they should live, breathe and ultimately direct the business structure, governance model, and day-to-day operations & behaviours.

we'll explore this in more detail over the next few blog posts but for today, we'll be honing in on what this means in the context of hiring!

as a solo founder, whoever you bring in first to your team is always going to be a big deal! this was definitely true for me at somos but a couple of things to mention that helped me get what i was looking for: 

supportive, values aligned (& patient!) early investors πŸš€ 


this cannot be understated! somos raised two small early rounds and is backed by 23 individuals all of whom have bought into our co-ownership model and social mission

having sufficient runway allowed me to understand the refugee recruitment space without rushing. this helped find partners for long-term relationships whilst being able to also focus on product development, marketing and everything else that comes with a business like this!

partner organisations & people to collaborate with πŸ€

open door policy (ODP) - an NGO that runs remote employability programmes for refugees living in limbo is a super important partner for somos.

at the most basic level, everyone i interviewed (and then hired!) for the first roles at somos came via ODP but we value the relationship for so much more than that too...

β†’ ODP advocate for the same things we do. better working rights and conditions for refugees.

β†’ they are grassroots, bottom up kind of organisation that really centre the communities they work in and with.  

β†’ they maintain relationships with their graduates post-employment:

1️⃣ for the team, this means continued and growing support networks.

2️⃣ for me (especially as a one person management team), i know my team members have mentoring and guidance beyond what they get internally at somos.

3️⃣ for refugee workers more broadly, coming through a program like ODP gives some checks and balances vs an employer and means you've a champion looking out for you long term. 

now we know everyone involved, let's explore what the hiring process + program looks like!

empowering refugees in limbo: our unique refugee hiring program πŸš€

who is this for? πŸ€” 

despite the existence of the refugee convention & its protocols, there's a huge variation nation by nation in how refugees are treated, how asylum applications are processed (if at all) and the rights and protections people are afforded while they seek refuge. 

for our entry level program, we focus on roles for people: 

1️⃣ seeking asylum,

2️⃣ who have not yet been awarded settled status (either in the country they are in or a third country they are looking to relocate to), and 

3️⃣ as a result, are unable to work or access services locally due to restrictions placed upon them by the state they are in. 

targeted approach 🎯


as a small (and for our first recruitment round, one person(!) organisation), it makes sense to focus on a specific group and design as thoughtful a process as possible for them. 

key elements (psst πŸ€« you can see an example job description in our help centreπŸ’§ 

legal set up πŸ“‘ 

we can't employ refugees in limbo locally due to restrictions so have to contract with them.

whilst this is a neat solution at first glance, there are some really important things to pay attention to:

1️⃣ "contractors" very rarely have the same legal protections and work entitlements as "employees". 

2️⃣ over the last 10-15 years we've seen many companies jump through hoops to ensure that people are treated as contractors and not employees precisely for this reason! this ranges from tech companies to cleaning, security, catering and many other sectors too!

3️⃣ at somos, we (i) don't want our team members to miss out on rights and protections for the sake of a legal technicality; and (ii) encourage other companies to ensure their refugee team members are equally protected.

[⚠️ spoiler alert: keep reading to see the types of rights and protections we mean!]

check out this panel discussion on hiring refugees we took part in for migration summit 2023. πŸ“Ί

more than contractors: providing employee-style protections for refugees πŸ›‘οΈ 

basic contractual protections included in our service agreements with our refugee team members
basic contractual protections included in our service agreements with our refugee team members

what are the specific protections we're talking about? πŸ›‘️

the "basics"

at somos, we believe in providing employee-style protections and benefits to our refugee team members, regardless of their technical legal status. as far we're concerned, these are "basics" that should be a standard feature of refugee employment. here's what we mean:

β†’ πŸ₯ sick pay: regardless of someone's technical legal arrangement or migration status, we think if a person is effectively working full time for a company they shouldn't be denied pay when they're unwell.

β†’ πŸ–️ paid leave: we all need a break! we provide 32 days a year at somos, 8 of which (i.e. two work weeks) have to be taken consecutively so we know everyone gets at least one "proper" chance to step away without having to worry about it affecting their financial situation. [side note: to practice what i preach, we also effectively shut down to a bare minimum of operations for the last week of the current year and first week of the next so i get a recharge too]   

β†’ πŸͺ§ notice period: this is a mutual benefit. it's rare jobs last or fit our personal development goals forever. if the time comes to move on, we want to give team members time and space to find the next thing (and help if we can) or if it's their decision to have time and space to not rush the handover.  

how we work

β†’ πŸ—“️ 4 day week for 5 days pay:  

  • we've adopted a work model that prioritizes the well-being of our team members
  • we offer a 4-day work week for 5 days' pay, a practice that's not standard in most companies (yet!) but one we believe can help move towards healthier life-work arrangements. 
  • we have especially taken refugee team members into account here as they often have challenging personal circumstances outside of work to confront. 

couple of other high level reasons to mention...!

1️⃣ founders can be a bit extra

  • founders often find themselves deeply invested in their businesses, especially during the initial stages. 
  • this level of commitment can be incredibly rewarding (for them!), particularly when the business is driven by a social purpose. 
  • however, it's important to recognize that this kind of involvement isn't expected or required from all team members and most certainly not those in entry level positions! 
  • each person has unique roles, responsibilities, and personal circumstances that need to be respected. extra personal time helps with this. 

2️⃣ there are other things to do

we want to make sure our team have sufficient time to have fun, spend time with loved ones, volunteer, learn, focus on their resettlement cases and come to work every week feeling rejuvenated!

tailored-benefits-96yma

🍬 how do we approach benefits at somos?

granting refugees equal rights doesn't mean depriving citizens of their own; it fosters more inclusive and diverse societies.

areej khan, finance & operations | somos

approach πŸ—ΊοΈ

the goal of our benefits scheme is to be as aligned with our team members as possible but also to do the "little things" that make the week better!

we also want our team to be able to feed in to what this looks like so expect this to evolve over time. 

most importantly, if team members do move on in the future, we want them to leave with as much in their personal development toolkit as possible. 

cash subsidies + bonuses πŸͺ™

β†’ day 1 bonus 

  • we pay a week's salary at the end of each new team member's first day to help with cashflow. 
  • we think this is especially important for refugee team members who may be struggling to access cash. 
  • waiting a month for your first pay cheque can be stressful.

β†’ birthday and work anniversary cash bonuses 

β†’ monthly cash subsidies for wellbeing, digital access and personal development 

  • refugee team members can struggle with opening bank accounts so we provide corporate expenses cards they can use to buy things like online courses. 

personal development πŸ“š

employee ownership πŸ’«

meet the team! our first hires, areej khan and ali ahmad ahmadi talk about their experiences living in limbo with elise ayra chen from ODP for migration summit 2023. πŸ“Ί

what's next? community focussed knowledge sharing! πŸ“š

it's not just about knowing my rights, it's about standing up for them and creating a better working environment for all refugees.

ali ahmad ahmadi, content creation | somos

we a new, small business with three people in the team - two of whom are refugees we've hired through this process. 

we want this piece and our learnings to be the start of building out knowledge for the wider community and hearing from others involved in similar initiatives!  

what does that look like?

for now, here are some tangible things we'll be doing to move this discussion forward: 

  • we've created a new worker rights section in our help centre where even if you're not looking to apply to somos, you'll be able to see example job descriptions and our standard contract (with explainer!) so you know what to ask/look for elsewhere
  • having set the scene, we'll be hearing more from areej and ali in the coming months so they can share what all of this legal jargon looks like in more human form!!

 join the conversation: share and spread the word πŸ—£οΈ 

if you work in the space either as a refugee, in policy or as an employer we'd love to hear from you ESPECIALLY if you think there are improvements we could/should be making!

thanks for reading and we'll see you next time!

khawar @ somos πŸ‘‹

join somos πŸš€ teach languages, co-own the platform!

πŸ› οΈ everything you need to build your online teaching business.

  πŸŽ“ host communities, create, sell and teach classes & courses - all in one place!  

  🌱 champion language diversity, heritage languages, and language rights.  

  🀝 co-owners, not customers. earn shares in somos doing what you love.

find out more

welcome to somos πŸš€... an edtech startup? sure, but more than that we're a social enterprise on a mission to create a first of its kind platform co-owned by language teachers...

at somos, we understand that language teachers, especially those teaching minoritized languages, need more platforms that truly value educators and promote linguistic diversity. 🌈   

we're here to build more than just tools for teaching - we want to be part of movements championing language, migrant & worker rights. ✊🏾

all of our paid pricing plans offer paths to co-ownership in somos.    

why? we don't want customers, we're inviting co-owners who can help us build a new kind of platform and be rewarded fairly for doing so.    

as a co-owner in somos, you'll be a crucial part of a global community celebrating languages, peoples, cultures and fair pay for educators.   

we're aiming to give you the tools to make meaningful connections with students, fellow teachers, activists, and grassroots organizations, all while having the power to create and sell your own digital language products. 

we want our mission to cut across not just everything we do but how we do it.      

along with co-ownership for teachers, we also have a community ownership programme for grassroots organisations and have put a unique entry-level hiring programme in place for refugees living in limbo.  

ready to transform your teaching and make a real difference? get on board and let's change the world of language learning together 🌍  


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