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Creating Work Opportunities for Talented Refugees

By Margret Gaar

Building professional networks will earn you a resourceful career. Enriching others' lives through networking will be the greatest investment of a lifetime. These are my takeaways from interviewing Shipra Kayan, founder of Siriforce, a start-up that bridges the talent/opportunity gap between Silicon Valley and East Africa through a distributed workforce model.

After studying computer science, Shipra worked as an entry level software designer at Oracle. She later worked at several startups, including the popular freelance contracting website Upwork, where she gained knowledge on key aspects of business. This was the push she needed to set off her entrepreneurial career around the objective to bring software and business together.

“When you work with a small company, you have to learn about everything,” she said.

Despite having a good job, Shipra was yearning to start her own business. She had been working at Silicon Valley for over 18 years doing software design. It was a risk, but she was not to be deterred.

‘A big business starts small’ - Richard Branson

It was time for Shipra to start her own business. She first founded a consulting business. This was not an easy route; as a starter she was nervous, but it all worked out. She had a great network which gave her the referrals and hence a boost for this business. Shipra worked really hard, motivated by the support from her network. The consulting business was going well, but meanwhile she was considering starting an outsourcing agency, drawing on her experiences working at Upwork. After a period of much thinking, the Siriforce quality assurance agency came to her mind and was launched in August 2020. The positioning is around “finding bugs before your customers find them.”

The business created work opportunities for people regardless where they come from or their appearances. Shipra works with a team that includes Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) graduates who are refugees from Burundi, Rwanda and Lebanon.

“We are on a mission to showcase that Silicon Valley level talent exists in the most unexpected and hidden places,” she said. “This is also effective since we work online and our clients are from across the continent.”

Shipra believes that talent is everywhere, but jobs are not. After spending some time at the Kakuma camp in Kenya, she met many SNHU graduates. These graduates had skills to do remote jobs but lacked the bridge to work opportunities. When she found there was a team of people that were completely underutilized but that had skills, she became driven to create opportunities for them. Shipra was confident this would work since she had built a good reputation in creating opportunities for others.

“Many of my ideas come from talking to people, because my first idea is usually the wrong idea,” she explained. “So the more I talk to people, the more I can refine or pivot or think of the idea in different ways.”

Shipra was optimistic and excited to initiate the idea even in the midst of a tough year with the pandemic and encountering some discouragement from friends who felt it was not the right time to start a new business. She was determined to try and make it work.

“Common questions I heard were: ‘Why are you doing it? You have a good job, you have a good business going on? Why are you trying to do this new thing?’ So this gave me some pause.”

Nevertheless, she persisted. During the process of launching Siriforce in the midst of COVID-19, Shipra had to juggle her roles at work and take care of her then 2 year old daughter since the daycare was closed. All these difficulties made her question her decisions about the business. But after a short period, things were falling back into order again for her, especially with the school re-opening.

She praises her husband’s support throughout the difficulty of launching a new business during such uncertainty. Shipra was lucky to have good people who applaud her work and have faith in her ability as her own ‘boss’.

“He was like, ‘You must try it. People will believe in you and you can do this. You're amazing’”.

Innovation Tips

I was very keen to hear Shipra’s take on coming up with good ideas and how to pursue innovative and entrepreneurial career paths in life. Here was some of her advice for students and young people.

1. Try. “The first thing is that you have to just do something. It's not going to be perfect, but you have to try and overcome the inertia of just thinking.”

2. Have a good support network. “Surround yourself with people you can talk to and who believe in you because there will be times when you are going to be like ‘I shouldn't be doing this.’ You just need people to help you come back to your goals.”

3. Understand the problem space. “Understand what problems you're trying to solve and look at it from all different angles.”

4. Find a mentor. “If you ask people for help, they will usually help you. But most people don't ask because they think oh, whatever, they will say no. Even if they say no, that's fine.”

5. Utilize your youth. Shipra encourages young people to harness all their energy into their entrepreneurial goals. “Honestly, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you can do it when you're young or when you're older. When you have a couple of kids, it's harder. So if you are young and you have a vision and an idea, pursue it.”

My Takeaways

Shipra’s career journey is a perfect example of how far someone can go in order to fulfill their goals in life. I have learned that networking is vital when it comes to succeeding in our profession. Shipra's story has enlightened me on the need to stick with people who add value to my career growth.

This story is an eye opener for me as a young person. Now is indeed the right time for me to actualize my vision. I find it really inspiring that Shipra worked hard to close the gap that existed between skilled refugees and clients. As an aspiring entrepreneur myself, I will try to create job opportunities for others to reach their potential.

I admire Shipra's hard work and determination. It gives me the confidence to look at things from a different perspective. It is an indicator that nothing can be impossible if I try. Starting something small and ugly doesn’t mean failure but growth.

Learn more about Shipra by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Siriforce | Upwork. Margret Gaar is a student at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn. She wrote this story after going through Global Innovators Academy's Interview an Innovator online course experience.

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