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Business Because

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Social Enterprise: Aston MBA’s New App Helps Refugees Find Jobs

According to UN figures, there are 65 million people in the world now officially registered as refugees, living in temporary camps awaiting resettlement. 4.9 million are from Syria.

Only 134,000 refugees were resettled in 2015. Millions more live in informal settlements or slums, or are in transition from one location to another. Most are isolated and jobless.

Onaseye Onabolu, an MBA student at the UK’s Aston Business School, has just launched a new app which will allow the world’s refugees to develop professional networks and connect with local employers.

Like a LinkedIn for displaced persons, Sona Circle lets users build professional profiles, share their skills and professional backgrounds, network with organizations, and apply for jobs. The free-to-download Apple iOS app is designed to tackle issues around labor force participation and social integration.

“We want to restore the rights and dignity of five million refugees by 2022,” says Onaseye, who runs the social enterprise with his co-founder and ex-Apple software designer Archi Troko.

“The mission of Sona Circle is to formalize an informal ecosystem; to empower refugees to share their skills and talents and build a better future for themselves and their families,” he continues. “We aim to help connect refugees with employers, government agencies, aid organizations, and, most importantly, each other.”

The journey towards Sona Circle began when Onaseye and his three team-mates – Michael McKay, Dr. Raja Pappu, and Tamara Waltho – were selected out of over 50,000 candidates and 12,500 teams to compete at the annual international Hult Prize regional finals in London. The focus of the competition: to build social enterprises to combat the global refugee crisis.

Through his MBA experience at Aston, Onaseye had the opportunity to present his idea at an MBA mentor dinner held at Aston Villa soccer club. His team also won the 2017 Aston Uni Hack competition and were finalists at Aston Enterprise and Santander Business Start-Up competition.

When Onaseye – a serial entrepreneur and CIMA-qualified management accountant – last spoke to BusinessBecause, he was looking to develop his own Africa-focused investment consultancy, and drive impact investing in Africa.

Onaseye will graduate with an MBA from Aston later this year. He’s now looking for funding for Sona Circle. With his latest social enterprise project, he hopes to start out in Europe and grow internationally over the next five years.

“Aston Business School has been particularly good at encouraging MBA candidates to take part in various startup competitions such as Aston Uni Hack, Aston Enterprise, and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business initiative,” says Onaseye.

“Suffice to say, we are not short of advisors, mentors and partners. Even a couple of venture capital firms have shown a keen interest in supporting the project,” he continues.

“Without the support from Aston’s entrepreneurship, marketing, and finance departments, as well as from members of the MBA cohort itself, none of this would have been possible.”

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Info Migrants

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Need to network in a new country? There’s an app for that

Starting over as a newly arrived migrant seems like an insurmountable task. A new app is trying to help migrants settle and link them up with networking opportunities, including employment.

It can be difficult to advertise one’s skills as a refugee or to network in a meaningful way that might facilitate opportunities in other areas – especially taking language barriers, cultural differences, and the potential for exploitation into account. But a new app hopes to change that.

Sona Circle says it is the world’s first networking and recruitment app that enables “refugees around the world to locate jobs and support services,” according to the app’s website. The free app further explains that it “connects refugees with their immediate surroundings, local opportunities and each other.” Other media have compared Sona Circle to a LinkedIn targeting displaced persons.

“Our model addresses the issues of education, labour force participation and social integration. By supporting the engagement of minority groups and restoring access to economic opportunities, we are reaching millions of people seeking to improve their income and economic equality,” Sona Circle states.

The app also says that it primarily targets refugees living in settlement camps in a bid to help them “integrate effectively into their new environments.” If the app is successful, Sona Circle could be one of the first digital platforms to offer opportunities and new perspective to migrants and refugees beyond boundaries.

An award-winning idea

Sona Circle was launched in direct response to the refugee crisis in Europe. Its founders said they wanted to “restore the rights and dignity of five million refugees by 2022” with the help of his app.

“The mission of Sona Circle is to formalize an informal ecosystem; to empower refugees to share their skills and talents and build a better future for themselves and their families,” Sona Circle stated in a press release.

The concept behind the app had already won a prize at Hult International Business School before it was even realized.

Just getting started

Sona Circle has teamed up with several different companies and government agencies around Europe to help refugees find jobs. Organizations such as ERASMUS+ and Rights in Exile Program, and companies including Deutsche Telekom and Starbucks UK are all featured on the app. The team behind Sona Circle has also launched a challenge to “create 100 new jobs for refugees in major cities.”

“Our aim is to partner with major employers and local government agencies to create new jobs within their organizations for refugees,” Sona Circle says about its Sona100 challenge.

The Sona Circle app is available on both Android and iPhone, and reportedly has a present network of 2,000 users in major cities around the globe. For more information, download the app or go to www.sonacircle.com.

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ABC News

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For highly skilled refugees, an opportunity to translate language skills into work

by Davi Merchan, ABC News

LONDON — Ahmed fled Syria knowing he might never return. He understood he would have to say goodbye to friends and loved ones, to the life he had worked so hard to build.

But he never thought taking refuge in another land would mean never practicing dentistry again, giving up on almost 10 years of sacrifices and hard work for a career he profoundly loved. Since immigrating to the U.K. in 2015, he has not been able to practice dentistry again.

“No one tells you that they won’t hire you,” Ahmed told ABC News. “But you feel it, the stigma. I feel it, many times, I feel it.”

Ahmed spoke to ABC News on condition of anonymity and asked to use a pseudonym in order to not jeopardize his dental certification application.

‘I’ve wanted to feel this feeling since I came to the United Kingdom. To feel like I can be helpful.’

Since coming to the U.K., he said he has spent hundreds of dollars in exam fees to get certified to practice. He said he meticulously saves what cash he can from the refugee allowance he receives from the UK government and splits his money between providing for his now-pregnant wife and saving for the certification exams.

Ahmed’s is a struggle familiar to many refugees around the world.

“We can’t pretend that refugees don’t experience racism and discrimination in the labor market, and that will negatively impact their access to jobs and the jobs that they might seek,” Alice Bloch, a professor of sociology at the University of Manchester, told ABC News.

In her research, Bloch has found that refugees are consistently underemployed. As a result, they often have gaps in their resumes. For highly skilled refugees, the problem worsens as the lack of practice tends to lower their chances of landing a job in their fields.

And like Ahmed, many refugees give up on their former careers when they are forced to flee to other countries. According to the Department of Labor, foreign-born workers are less likely to be employed in professional, management or related occupations than U.S. born workers.

“Recertification is a long and costly process in the United States,” Molly Fee, a Ph.D. student researching forced migration and refugee resettlement at the University of California, Los Angeles, told ABC News.

“Since early employment is a necessity for refugees as soon as they arrive, refugees typically have to accept the first job opportunity available,” Fee said.

For many refugees, that means taking entry-level jobs and changing their career paths.

Fee said that some refugees are able to successfully readjust their career goals. For example, former doctors get certified as nurses or medical technicians so they can continue to work in their fields of expertise.

For Ahmed, he has chosen to pursue both dentistry and a new profession.

A few months ago, Ahmed heard about Sona Circle, a networking app that helps refugees find employment opportunities in their areas.

Archibald Troko, one of Sona Circle’s co-founders, said it’s about giving refugees hope so they can say, “‘Hey, look, I haven’t just been discarded and fall through the cracks of society.”

With close to 2,000 users in New York, London and other major cities and the ability to connect refugees with employers, Ahmed said he hoped to find a job through Sona Circle.

Instead, Ahmed found work through the company’s other brainchild, Sona Translate, a new company that aims to employ mostly refugees as translators and interpreters.

Ahmed said he spent his first year in the U.K. learning technical and advanced English to help him get re-certified in dentistry. Now, he brings those language skills to his new job at Sona Translate, which also allows him to fund his continuing studies.

“I’ve wanted to feel this feeling since I came to the United Kingdom,” Ahmed said. “To feel like I can be helpful.”

Troko said the service also hopes to change people’s views about refugees.

“We hope to really inspire people to try and take on a new business model to support vulnerable communities,” Troko said.

Sona Translate launched in the U.K. on Oct. 19, and Troko said the company plans to expand to the U.S., Canada and Australia over the next two months.

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Aston Business School

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MBA launches app to empower refugees

An MBA student at Aston Business School has launched a smartphone app which could help millions of refugees get back into work and resume normal life.

Onaseye Onabolu has transformed his team’s Hult Prize concept into a real business, launching his co-founded company SONA Circle, an app that has multiple venture capital firms curious.

There are over 65 million refugees around the world living in temporary accommodation, refugee camps or transitioning from one location to another. SONA Circle is a professional networking app that aims to restore their access to employment opportunities by connecting people with each other, companies, governments and aid organisations.

The app will enable refugees to share their skills and employment background on their profile, share posts to a news feed and send public and private messages. Employers will be able to find nearby users who possess the skills they are looking for.

SONA Circle co-founder and current Full-Time MBA student, Onaseye Onabolu said that his team had received advice and support from a network of contacts including the Aston MBA Programme Director Kirit Vaidya, MBA Careers Consultant, Paul Schoonenberg, and Carolyn Keenan who manages start-up incubator, BSEEN.

“Aston Business School encourages MBA candidates to take part in the various start-up competitions such as Aston Uni Hack, Aston Enterprise, BSEEN platform and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businessinitiative. Members of staff support our ideas and the MBA cohort itself contains some key talent without whom, none of this would have been possible.

“Along the journey, we had the opportunity to present our social enterprise idea at an MBA Mentor Dinner held at Aston Villa Football Club, we’ve had news articles featured on the Aston University website and in alumni publications and even an interview with The Sunday Times.  Suffice to say we are not short of advisors, mentors and partners.”

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