In our next series of blogs we’re featuring interviews with the winners of our 2018-19 Young Entrepreneurs Programme (RG YEP). The first of these blogs features PAZ.ai, a social impact driven startup whose mission is to up-skill and connect talented individuals from refugee camps in Europe and Greece with remote work opportunities worldwide. PAZ.ai joined our RG YEP 2018-19 programme and at the Final Pitch Event they won the Social Impact Award due to their potential to have a clear social impact in Greece. The team worked alongside RG Mentor Lyda Modiano, Communications Strategist and Founder at Wide Strategy and RG Domain Expert Catherine Katsarou. They won a £1,000 cash prize to be spent on accelerating the business, provided by the award sponsors TITAN.
As Co-Founder and CEO of PAZ.ai, Leticia Galdon is a social entrepreneur, determined to build a bridge between the high tech industry and those affected by humanitarian crisis. Before creating PAZ.ai, she worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Restoring Family Links Programme, where she worked on cases of missing migrants and refugees locating them and bring them back to their loved ones. It was while working on this programme that she realised the importance of technology and innovation in the humanitarian aid sector, allowing humanitarian interventions to be more effective. This week I caught up with Leticia to talk about PAZ.ai and their vision for bringing together professionals, companies and organisations to unfold the potential and untapped talent of refugees.
Please briefly explain your startup journey so far
After completing an MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development at SOAS and working for Unicef and the Red Cross, I founded PAZ.ai in November 2017 alongside Aida Martinez Prieto (advisor, trainer and entrepreneur, currently leading AI Education Programmes at Google) and Alvaro Sanmartin Cid (serial entrepreneur, founder of Minds Studio and former European Growth Manager at Udacity). We believe that technology can break the physical barriers that the system has put in place to keep people in refugee camps away from society. We wanted to prove to the world that we could create a sustainable solution to bring hope to refugee camps in Europe, and particularly Greece.
We each invested £1,000 into a Limited Company called PAZ.ai, and I travelled to Greece to visit the refugee camps. After the trip, we invited our network to a Design Thinking session where we developed a solution of teaching refugees a highly employable digital skill such as programming. To fund a pilot, we launched a Kickstarter campaign where we raised £16,000 through 227 individuals who believed in our ambitious idea. The pilot involved a coding bootcamp for refugees living in Katsikas refugee camp. We learnt that building a bridge between the camp and the job market was key in making a significant impact. After all, like everyone else, all they want is to find meaning in life, to create a future for their children, and to be seen as an individual of great worth, and not as a label.
After we returned from Greece, our mission was to find a way to provide young refugees with a path to self-development to overcome their challenges and allow them to move forward in life. Our vision is to connect talented and engaged young people from refugee camps with the world best companies, and in order to do that, we have created a fellowship programme to prepare young refugees to thrive in their careers based on 5 key pillars: digital training, language immersion, a mentorship programme, legal support and a wellbeing unit. We believe that getting a refugee hired for a job will have a domino effect on the rest of the youth at the camp, as it will inspire them to believe in themselves and to follow their example.
We are now ready to launch the fellowship and the only thing keeping us in London and not in Greece is the lack of funds. We are not a charity, but a social enterprise, so our model relies on getting companies to sponsor the education of the refugees in exchange for a number of hours of remote work from our students. PAZ are currently looking for partners and sponsors to launch the fellowship. If you would like to give us any feedback on their project or if you have ideas on how to get more companies involved, please do not hesitate to contact us.
How did you come to join RG YEP and how did you find the programme?
I joined RG YEP through the Ignite workshop at Imperial College, where being voted as one of the best ideas was extremely encouraging. It was great to become part of an incredible community that can support an initiative like ours. The masterclasses and the final pitch event were very interesting and I really enjoyed meeting other early-stage entrepreneurs and getting to learn together.
Personally, the most valuable part of the experience was my Mentor. I was assigned Lyda Modiano, an incredible woman who has set up her own business called Wide Strategy and she has been an incredible source of support and inspiration to me. My family and friends, who have seen me struggle to try to get PAZ off the ground since we started 18 months ago, have definitely seen the effects of my mentor in me. Lyda helped me to take control of the situation, to feel more comfortable navigating the business arena and she has taught me very valuable lessons that I will definitely continue applying throughout my entrepreneurial career.
RG YEP was an extremely rewarding experience, that required a lot of work from my side, but that at the end it gave me the results that I needed to step up my game. Reload Greece is one of the best things that happened to us since we founded PAZ.
What does winning the award mean to you personally & how will it help in PAZ.ai’s future plans?
Winning the Social Impact Award meant a lot to PAZ because it validates that a Greek community appreciated the work we are doing and the mission we are trying to reach. It also gave us credibility in front of the companies that we are trying to get on board, which has been key to speed up some of the negotiations that have been taking place for the past 6 months.
Personally winning this award made me feel that we are not alone, that there are other professionals who also see the value that refugees can bring to our society, and for me, that is such an important thing. We are not here to win awards, we are here to make a real difference, but to do that we need a network of people that can join our mission and help us make this happen.
How will PAZ.ai have a positive impact on Greece?
By bringing training in highly employable digital skills to refugee camps we will be creating a pipeline of refugee talent that companies can hire remotely. In this sense, we will be empowering refugees to transition from being a passive recipient of social aid to becoming an active member of the economy. This means that Greece would become the first country in the world turning the refugee crisis into an opportunity that will foster social inclusion and economic growth.
What are your plans for developing the business and what are your hopes for the future?
At the moment we are looking for the first 5 companies to sponsor our 2019 cohorts and with that money, we will be able to launch our fellowship programme in Katsikas refugee camp. We have been able to connect a refugee with a work opportunity at BlaBlaCar, the world leading long-distance carpooling platform, and we are working with other companies willing to either outsource work to refugees through PAZ or to hire a refugee as part of their team. In order to do this, we are building great partnerships with organizations such as EF and CodeYourFuture.
We do not like to look too much in the future, we rather focus on the present and learn throughout the process. If I am completely honest, PAZ will be whatever it needs to be, as long as it helps us reach our mission of bringing hope to refugee camps in Greece. We know that there is still a long way to go but we are excited to continue working together with the Reload Greece community to make this happen.
Thank you to Leticia for sharing her inspirational entrepreneurial story. It’s wonderful to hear Leticia’s positive comments on RG YEP and how the award has given validity and credibility to their mission. We will follow PAZ.ai’s journey with great interest and watch this space for more interviews with the other RG YEP winners soon.