A business founded by a former senior Infosys Europe executive that trains and runs the digital work engagements of refugees, who are often still stuck in camps, is starting to attract a loyal and dedicated global client base.
In what is both a pretty unique business model, but also an inspiring example of inclusivity, the business in question - StepUp.One (as in ‘stepping up as one’) - was set up in direct response to a famous demand at the 2019 Davos from a refugee called Mohamed Hassan, who challenged delegates and said:
Don't give us hand-outs: give us a marketable skill and connect us to global opportunities.
It also seems well on its way to meet the ambitious goal it has set itself as a brand—to reskill and employ a million such “forgotten refugees” in at least one marketable skill and deliver $1 billion in revenue by 2032.
“I remained determined to continue my education”
A graduate of the StepUp.One recruitment and training model is 27-year old Paul Padiet, whose life was severely impacted by events in his native South Sudan.
We had to choose between being internally displaced or moving to Kakuma Refugee Camp.
Established in 1992, Kakuma is an UNHCR refugee camp in Northwest Kenya that helps Sudanese, Ethiopian and Somali individuals and families who’ve been forced out of their homelands by conflict.
Padiet joined his family in the camp in February 2017.
The transition was difficult, he said, but he remained determined to continue his education and enrolled in various educational programs in the camp.
However, his breakthrough came when he became a StepUp.One trainee:
StepUp.One provided me with invaluable skills and a supportive community. I learned about managing businesses through Google Business Manager, how to create websites with WordPress, and social media marketing.
Padiet further honed his digital marketing, social media, and content creation skills via exposure to projects from clients as varied as Hootsuite, Lifeline Energy, and Eleanor Healthcare Group, with him delivering everything from edited videos and management of online campaigns. He said:
My journey from South Sudan to Kakuma and beyond has been filled with challenges, growth, and learning experiences.
I am grateful for the opportunities and the people who have helped me along the way - and as I continue to forge ahead, I will use my experiences to inspire others and make a difference in the world.
One of Padiet’s fellow StepUp.One virtual digital marketers is Vestine Leila.
Vestine was born in a Tanzanian refugee camp to parents who fled from Rwanda and Burundi during the 1972 war.
Her responsibilities now include managing five clients, three of whom are high profile international brands.
I am fortunate enough to now have the means to provide urgent monetary assistance to both my mother and siblings, which brings me great joy.
I am motivated to continue persevering towards my future goals, as I believe in the power of determination and hard work.
Another happy StepUp.One recruit is Patience Ciza, where she is now a Team Leader.
She says joining StepUp.One was an easy decision, as doing so not only provides opportunities for her own personal growth and development but also allows her to contribute to creating positive change in society.
Clients say they are delighted with the quality of what they are getting, too.
One such is an independent sales consultant, Ryan O'Sullivan, who has been using StepUp.One’s services for some four years.
He says he’s used StepUp.One specialists’ help to grow his thousand LinkedIn connections - mostly former work colleagues and people he had met in person - to over 10,000.
In parallel to building out that first degree relationship network, StepUp.One’s team has also helped me to create and share content and publish that through LinkedIn too - and all to key decision makers across my universe, so I'm now able to then build relationships with the people that matter to me.
One last remarkable data point about all this:
StepUp.One never charges more than a flat $300 a month for the range of digital outreach and content services it sells to its target market of company founders, recruiters, and corporate executives.
A professional existence
If all this sounds easy—it really isn’t. StepUp.One team members often continue to reside in places like Kakuma, which has very intermittent power.
The brand therefore often faces infrastructure limitations that hamper the firm’s ability to expand and recruit more refugees.
Nonetheless, starting with a 2019 pilot of five refugee graduates, as of 2023 1,500 more across seven different UNHCR camps have now been trained and onboarded.
Its founder and CEO, London-based Mohamed Anis, has also committed to scaling to 10,000 StepUp.One recruits this year.
The secret to success here seems to be a combination of candidate ambition, hard work and focus on delivery of a service that - power cuts notwithstanding - can easily be delivered remotely.
He explained his business model:
We start from onboarding refugees from different refugee camps, reskilling them in social media skills and digital marketing but also social skills - so a mix of soft and hard skills, email marketing, content marketing, and then I use a sales and marketing team to find jobs for them.
Another important part of the StepUp.One value proposition is that - just as Anis was taught in his 25 years at Infosys - the deliverable is always around outcomes. He said:
I always say, look, these are the outcomes that we can deliver for you as if the client turns around and says, ‘Hey, how long will this guy work for me every day?’ is a question I can't answer as I don't know how long he'll have electricity!
While the underlying tools are different, the skills are really the same”
As stated, Anis’s deliverables are, so far at least, very tightly bounded: sales and marketing using social media.
Doing so allows him to tap all kinds of revenue streams, he says - like start-up founders in the US, Europe, and Australia who use his graduates to help them raise capital by representing the founders of these companies and interacting on behalf of them with investors who have invested in similar types of companies.
Another business stream is to offer help to sales, account and engagement managers who use StepUp.One to speed up the identification of clients, pitch them and even set up a physical or a digital meeting between the two parties.
Although the names of the social media differ, and we do raise capital through CrunchBase, the revenue generation we do through LinkedIn, and the email marketing through Apollo. And while the underlying tools are different, the skills are really the same, and I find I can teach them very effectively to our new people.
Let’s give the last word to one last refugee who has been given what Mohamed Hassan asked for in Switzerland, a marketable skill that connects people like him to global opportunities, Frahan Ibrahim said:
I am a refugee, and after enrolling for the StepUp.One reskilling course, I realized it connects to global opportunities that pay, which was my ultimate dream.
After entering the Step Up.One world I have learnt so much about the corporate world and how to help companies grow.
It is absolutely incredible.