Mursal Hedayat's mother arrived in the UK from Afghanistan 23 years ago; a civil engineer who spoke four languages fluently. She was keen to work but found herself becoming trapped in low-skilled work - eroding both her skills and confidence.
This experience was - and is - shared by many other talented people in the refugee community and, in August 2016, Mursal drew on this inspiration to launch Chatterbox.
Why the ShareLab Fund
The UK economy loses an estimated £48bn annually in missed trading opportunities because of a chronic shortage of language skills in the labour market.
Chatterbox sees language teaching as a catalyst for quicker and more efficient labour market integration for skilled refugees. It is also a catalyst for change in society, with the potential to transform the currently toxic dialogue around refugees and migration by challenging the prevailing attitude that sees refugees as a burden on society, rather than as individuals with skills and talents to offer.
We neatly connect the problem of underutilised refugee talent with the demand for their language skills and will use the Nesta funding (£40,000) to grow the service, and meet the demand for tutors.
Work as part of the ShareLab Fund
Since January 2017, Chatterbox has delivered an average of 40 conversation practice classes for language learners at SOAS, University of London, and for individual clients; generating average monthly revenues of £2,000.
We employ more than 30 academics and professionals from Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and more, who have become refugees and are currently residing in the UK.
Collectively, we speak more than a dozen languages including French, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Korean, and Hindustani.
Through the ShareLab Fund programme, we intend to grow the existing service, develop complete language tuition for a waiting list of over 270 language learners, and experiment with the business model.
Hopes for the future
The world is currently experiencing the highest levels of displacement ever recorded in human history, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
Chatterbox has the potential to act as a powerful balm against some of the frictions this might cause, and support both displaced people as well as their adopted communities.
Our aim over the next few years will be to grow to reach many more refugees and communities in the UK and around the world.