Vivienne Francis, Founder of The Refugee Journalism Project
We asked Vivienne about her founder journey.
The Refugee Journalism Project provides support to help refugee and exiled journalists to re-start their careers in the UK.
Does the refugee cause rule out getting certain kinds of support - e.g. corporate support? Or the opposite, does it strike a chord at the current time?
There is nothing new about individuals being forced to flee their homes to seek safety in another country. However, over the past few years the scale of asylum and the intensity of media coverage has placed the issue at the forefront of people’s minds. And as a result, things like finding project volunteers, corporate sponsors and media coverage has been more straight forward for us than it probably is for others working in different areas.
Was there any pressure you felt, or received, not to set up a new organisation, but instead to join an existing one?
Though there are a number of media organisations doing excellent work with refugees, our project offers something quite unique as it focuses exclusively on supporting the professional identity of its participants through mentoring, workshops and industry placements. However, we acknowledge that we don’t have the expertise to do everything ourselves. Our approach is to work in collaboration with other organisations – for example, we are currently working with The Refugee Council and The Guardian Foundation. Through pooling our expertise and specialisms, we can achieve so much more.
What are you most proud of as Founder of Refugee Journalism Project?
The aspect I am perhaps most proud of is being able to gather together these individuals as valued professionals. Through the asylum process, many have become disconnected to their identities as experienced, educated, and valued professionals. This process has an obvious knock on effect on their self-esteem. Through the project, we are rebuilding this. The camaraderie within the group is particularly strong and the ambitious is that the first cohort will continue to work with the project and help support the new intake.
What was the turning point when you knew that your vision was going to take off and succeed?
I think this was when I saw change take place within our participants. For example, when they went on to get paid roles in the industry, or regular freelance work. Or used the project to help support their entrepreneurial ventures, or to set themselves up as cultural experts. It is also about supporting the participants with their individual goals, so for example, we are just as proud of the person who got a contract with the BBC as we are with the person who had an article published in English for the first time.
What, for you, are the 3 main strengths/skills/characteristics that a good social founder needs in order to succeed?
What, or who, kept you going at the toughest times in your founder journey?
The enthusiasm and gratitude of project’s participants.
What differentiates a social founder from a founder of a business - if anything? Although I have a drive to get more funding for the project, my motivation is about the project’s objectives rather than making a profit.
What key advice would you give to other social founders - either at the start of their founder journey, or at other stages?
I have found it incredibly valuable to share my experiences and project through attending conferences and forums. It’s a good way of getting feedback, building the project’s network and testing new ideas.
What are your plans now, the next stages of your personal journey and/or the organisation?
We have just recruited a new cohort for the project and will start workshops towards the end of this month.
And any other thoughts specific to the refugee issues?
One of the difficulties of a project like this is the label of being a refugee. Despite the name of the project, our ambition is for our participants to move away from being seen as “the refugee” in the newsroom, to being valued as journalists – whether that’s a financial journalist, sports journalist, food journalists, whatever.
This is quite a difficult shift as their status of being a refugee is sometimes what creates the opportunities in the first place. However, many of participants arrive on the project with a wealth of journalistic experience and are determinate to demonstrate this – this is what we need to focus on.
Some have been editors, correspondents, broadcasters in their own countries. Most just need guidance in areas like understanding the specifics of the UK industry; identifying where the opportunities lie; or advancing their English for the specific demands of UK journalism.
We always, however have to remain realistic about what can be achieved. Journalism is a competitive industry, and so it is impossible to say that we will find all participants regular work. What we can do, however, is improve their chances.
Thank you Vivienne, we wish you luck and look forward to following your story.