Industry Stories — 21 August 2017

Breaking Barriers: Helping refugees into employment with the cloud

“Before Dropbox we emailed everything as attachments. This resulted in lots of duplicates and time spent re-writing content. I probably send 75% less emails now!” – Matthew Powell, CEO of Breaking Barriers

The refugee crisis is one of massive scale and happening all over the world. Almost daily, news of people fleeing their homes in fear of war and poverty, in search of safety, hits our headlines. In fact, the UNHCR says globally nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute because of conflict or persecution.

In the first quarter of this year alone, the number of people seeking asylum in Europe reached 164,500 highlighting that Europe remains a vital destination for refugees looking for the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

Matthew Powell, CEO of Breaking Barriers – an organisation designed to find meaningful employment for refugees – says finding refugees stable employment is crucial to achieving this stability: “The refugee crisis is not a recent phenomenon. In the UK, the number of refugees entering the country has been steadily increasing since World War Two,” Matthew says. “Every refugee has a legal right to employment here.”

This is why Matthew started up Breaking Barriers. Refugees he says generally have a lack of local work experience, which makes finding their first job in the UK difficult, or they have limited knowledge of how to apply for the jobs they want. Breaking Barriers aims to work with refugees to align their skills and qualifications with relevant job opportunities.

Matthew explains that this not only ensures successful integration between refugees and local communities, but is also a win-win for businesses: “The people we are supporting have been through unspeakable things. To become a refugee, you must prove beyond doubt to the Home Office that your life was at risk in your country. They deserve a second chance,” Matthew explains. “We have a refugee population that is sizeable. Most have tertiary education qualifications, yet unemployment of refugees is over 50%. It makes sense to bring them into meaningful employment, especially as the UK is facing a growing skills shortage.”

Founded two and a half years ago, Breaking Barriers is a team of 10 employees working directly with nearly 300 refugees a year. Behind them there’s a group of business partners, such as Bank of America, Thomson Reuters and Mayor Brown, offering employment opportunities. For Matthew, in order for an organisation with so many moving parts to run smoothly, building an efficient infrastructure was crucial:

“That’s why we partnered with Dropbox over a year ago,” he says. “For us, simple accessibility to our beneficiaries’ files is very important, and being able to access that information remotely has proven invaluable to our team. Before Dropbox we emailed everything as attachments. This resulted in lots of duplicates and time spent re-writing content. I probably send 75% less emails now!”

For Matthew, it’s all about creating a transparent business and encouraging cross-team learning. Something he says is made possible by everyone having access to all information, not just the content associated with their departments: “I want my team to see every part of the business. I think this really helps them understand each other’s roles and benefits them to see what others are doing,” he explains.

A key part of Breaking Barriers’ work is to build trust with their beneficiaries, and due to the sensitive nature of a refugee’s personal information, Matthew explains that how this information is used and stored is very important: “We hold incredibly personal information. For many refugees we work with, their families are still at risk in other countries. So, to maintain that trust, they need to feel assured that the information they share with us is very secure.”

Finally, we asked Matthew what advice he has for companies not yet using cloud technologies: “100% go for it,” he says. “It makes the work you’re doing more efficient, more impactful and less frustrating. For us, using the cloud has also acted as a spearhead for us to explore other technologies that will make our organisation even more streamlined.”

To find out how other charitable organisations like the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) are using Dropbox Business to support refugees, click here. If you’d like to work with Breaking Barriers, you can contact them on Twitter, Facebook or take a look at their website.


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