Every Thursday Refugees Forward will profile a Coach who has worked with a Newcomer.
Mr Shyaam Ramkumar was a Consultant with Accenture and then worked as a Knowledge and Innovation Manager at Circular Economy. Currently, he is a PhD candidate in Economic Sociology at Università degli Studi di Milano and the Startup Studio Network Coordinator at Mamazen. Mr Ramkumar holds an MSc in Industrial Ecology from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and a BA in Economics and Econometrics from Northwestern University. At Refugees Forward, he worked with Anas Ragheb.
Mr Shyaam Ramkumar has a history of being an advisor for start-ups. However, after an internet search led him to Refugees Forward on Facebook, he chanced upon an opportunity to serve an incubator as a coach where newcomers begin businesses from scratch.
“What interested me most was that Refugees Forward was a start-up tackling an issue that I identified with and created social impact simultaneously.”
Once he became a coach for the first incubator for Refugees Forward in 2018, he was invited to also take part in the selection process of the newcomer entrepreneurs. It is during this time that he met Anas Ragheb. Having liked his idea and enthusiasm, Mr Ramkumar decided to form a team with two students to assist Anas in setting up his business.
“There are additional steps newcomers have to take to create businesses. It is not always known to everyone.”
“Refugees Forward creates the foundation of the next big start-up. You never know if the new Facebook is created here,” he states with a tone of certainty.
During the four-month process, Mr Ramkumar acknowledged his inexperience of mentoring newcomers especially as he became familiar with the conditional issues that came to haunt the team at every step.
“The everyday issues of a start-up are well known. However, there are additional steps newcomers have to take. They deal with administrative issues, caseworkers who are attached to the newcomer, and the permissions needed to set up the business.”
Anas’s business was no different. However, the tricky parts began much before the interface with the bureaucracy.
“Anas’s business worked to help other newcomers who were high-skilled and less-educated and assist them to gain comparable employment. He was also mindful to keep their interests in place, and this was something that was not seen in the municipalities,” he answers when asked about Anas’s initial business plan.
Yet, the challenge was to narrow the idea to one occupation that could help resolve the most significant employment gap in the Dutch economy. The team of four looked through reports and labour statistics to discover that truck drivers were in massive demand in the Netherlands.
“It takes one success… And while Anas had no experience with truck drivers or the industry he was quickly on his feet, researching the idea, talking to people, setting up a network wherever possible…” his voice trails off.
The business rested on three moving parts coming along together, making it a bureaucratic and challenging proposition. The municipalities that held the purse strings, the driver training institutions, and trucking companies that would employ them, all had to work together. During this time the entrepreneurial mindsets of the students also pushed the team ahead as did Mr Ramkumar’s work with a non-profit and his professional experiences as a strategic consultant. Despite several setbacks, the team was able to assist Anas with setting up his business that a few weeks back received its first set of funding.
“It shows if you have an entrepreneurial mind like Anas, the Refugees Forward program works well because they listen to advise, put in the work to realise the idea, and are passionate about it.”
This experience has also shaped Mr Ramkumar’s view of newcomer entrepreneurship.
“I think the system to integrate refugees is broken. I don’t think there are resources enough or even interest to provide opportunities to newcomers that complement their skills. Caseworkers find random jobs for newcomers rather than understanding their backgrounds. Refugees Forward fixes this issue by providing newcomers with the opportunity to pursue their passions and contribute to the economy in a meaningful and impactful manner using their unique skill sets and professional backgrounds.”
“If you have an entrepreneurial mind like Anas, the Refugees Forward program works well.”
Mr Ramkumar also addressed how a mentor must conduct themselves during the process.
“The interaction must be deep and that while mentors must act as co-developers, they must not force their idea or be too involved,” he says with some thought. “I know these pieces of advice are contrary,” he laughs ever so lightly as the interview comes to a close.