It’s a very hot day on Wednesday June 29th. A big crowd has gathered in front of “Halle E+G” at Museumsquartier in Vienna. Most of them are refugees. All of them are here for the same reason: They are hoping to find a job at Austria’s first job fair for refugees. Alina and I can truly feel their motivation, their strong willingness to work. As we get in and walk through the various stands, we spot names like Ströck, Spar and REWE.
All these big companies came here today to talk to refugees about questions like:
- What kind of qualifications are you looking for?
- What does the application process look like in Austria?
- What about the legal requirements?
“Your german language skills are amazing. However, we need different qualifications for this job”, or “Perfect! I think this could work out. Write down your name and your number for a job interview!” The answers vary from company to company. But the people who came here, stay motivated. They keep looking for other options.
It’s about the idea of letting refugees come together with companies. It’s about the idea of integration through giving refugees a chance to work. This is what Stephanie Cox and Leo Widrich, two young entrepreneurs, wanted to achieve by organizing Austria’s first job fair for refugees in Vienna. Chancen:reich is the official name of their idea. An idea that motivated a group of volunteers who worked passionately to make this job fair possible.
I got the chance to meet Stephanie and talk to her about how it all started, what kind of challenges they were facing and what the future of chancen:reich will look like. Read this exciting interview about a remarkable idea and an exceptional young person.
Since the beginning of the so called “refugee crisis”, more and more people are deciding to volunteer nowadays. They often talk about a specific experience that moved them to lend their helping hands. Was there also a specific “key moment” that moved you to do something?
Stephanie: Well, it all started in December 2015 when Leo and I actually just wanted to meet and chat over a cup of coffee. At that time Austria was at the very pinnacle of the so-called “refugee crisis” and so, instead of that, we ended up visiting the processing point for asylum seeking refugees at Lindengasse in Vienna. There we talked to a lot of refugees about everything and anything. They told us about their experiences so far, what they would like to do here in Austria, what their dreams and aspirations look like. There was so much inspiration and motivation going out of these people; you could really feel that while talking to them. This feeling stuck with us upon returning to our homes abroad. Not long after that, we again talked to each other about that experience and we knew: Okay, we just can’t get it out of our heads. We don’t want to tell our kids someday that we actually saw what was going on and still didn’t do anything waiting for other people to meet the challenge.
How did you come up with the idea of organizing a job fair for refugees?
Stephanie: After talking to a lot of different people working for Caritas and the Austrian Red Cross about the challenges they are dealing with day in day out, we came to the conclusion that the most important and most helpful thing we could do is to concentrate on education and/or work for refugees. In the end, this is what it’s all about. Education and work are the cornerstones of effective integration. And because of our experiences in the field of entrepreneurship, Leo and I wanted to focus on the second cornerstone: work. We found ourselves confronted with questions like: What kind of jobs could companies offer to refugees right now? What about the juridical aspects? Do they need additional employees at all? And if they do, what do the refugees have to do to successfully apply for a certain position? Many refugees are not even familiar with the Austrian application process. Handing in a CV is often not as common in their countries as it is in Austria. All these questions lead to our ultimate idea: What about creating a place where companies and refugees could simply meet each other and talk about all these questions? This was it. We started organizing the first job fair for refugees in Vienna.
What were the first steps you had to take to actually realize this idea?
Stephanie: We started inquiring with big companies like REWE, the Austrian postal service and Ströck. We knew we had to get “the big ones” on board to attract other, smaller companies too. And, actually, it also turned out to be a good way to draw public attention to our project, for which we even held a press conference. In addition to that, the Austrian job centre AMS partially helped us with sending out invitations to refugees who already have free access to the employment market. That’s very important too! The job fair was just for refugees with subsidiary protection status and/or for those entitled to asylum. These are the legal prerequisites for entering the local employment market as a refugee.
The press conference was certainly a pivotal moment for the publicity of your project, wasn’t it?
Stephanie: Yes, definitely. We were able to present our project and especially the idea behind it. It was important for us to let people know what our main goal is and what is behind all of that, namely the registered association Chance Integration. The main idea of our project is that work is the key to integration. Being able to work makes us feel valuable. Through work and at work refugees get in touch with locals and practise the language at the same time. Earning and managing their own money makes independent people out of them. So why not give them the chance? After all, our economy and the companies themselves are benefiting from their work too.
Looking back on how everything started, what was the biggest challenge for you?
Stephanie: I think the biggest challenge was to organize a team in a short period of time. It’s always a challenge to organize people who are voluntarily dedicating their time to a project. You have to constantly motivate them to keep on going. And it’s always a challenge to get things done as quickly as possible. However, in this case, our team members were so dedicated to the project that this was not an issue. We just wanted to do it NOW. We didn’t want to wait for it because it was needed NOW. We got the whole project up and running within four months! I am very proud of that. Nobody believed that. Many companies told us it was way too short-notice. We were told that we would have many people against us, that we would find ourselves confronted with demonstrations of right-wing supporters. We kept all that in mind but we knew we couldn’t control that. The only thing we could do was to create the best conditions for this job fair. And we did. Fortunately, nothing of that kind happened in the end.
Now, the counter question: Looking back, what was the most beautiful moment for you?
Stephanie: The most beautiful moment definitely happened during the job fair, when one of the refugees excitedly told me that he had gotten a job at Penny and would start working there on Thursday. At this very moment I truly felt why I’m doing this at all. Precisely for this reason! This project is about people who came to our country under very difficult conditions and it’s about their proper integration in our society. We also received such a wonderful feedback from all the companies. The head of Ströck was so impressed by the motivation of all the visitors, that he decided to post 27 jobs, which now are open vacancies. Ikea was happily surprised to meet so many carpenters among the people there, because they are exactly what they need at the moment! It’s really a win-win situation for all parties.
What will become of chancen:reich in the future? Is another job fair being planned?
Stephanie: There is definitely a future for chancen:reich. We are planning to go to Linz, Graz, Innsbruck and Salzburg, where we have already received some requests. It’s important to me to develop further and to find a way of regarding all of our volunteers who work so passionately. All of this would not have been possible without them!
Is there a possibility to join chancen:reich as a volunteer now – after the job fair?
Stephanie: Yes, of course! We are always glad to have new motivated people on board. So: the more the merrier! If you want to join us, just drop me an e-mail at email@example.com.
Thank you, Stephanie, for taking the time for the interview!
Photography copyrights belong to Alina Nikolaou