Kingston Whig Standard: Queen’s grad develops program for refugees seeking work

Arash Samimi, after living in Kingston from 2009 to 2016, calls it his Canadian home.

Now based in Toronto, the Iranian immigrant wants to replicate the sense of community he felt here for other newcomers to Canada, through his first not-for-profit organization.

Launched in the fall of 2016, the Livelihood Project is focused on finding meaningful, long-term employment for refugees and immigrants. This will be delivered through three core components: a mobile application, social programs designed to reinforce soft skills, and hands-on workshops intended to teach social skills and cross-cultural competency.

The motivation for Livelihood Project stems from Samimi meeting his now longtime friend and current business partner, Parin Kothari, in 2009 during their time at Queen’s University. While working towards his PhD in physics, Samimi said the two would discuss major events and topics in the world. One conversation Samimi remembers clearly was how they could help refugees who moved to Canada. Sitting on the idea while they finished their degrees, the two didn’t make any inroads on the topic until the influx of Syrian refugees to Canada in 2015-16. At the time, Samimi said, Canadian agencies only focused on helping refugees to get socially integrated into their community, leaving gaps in aiding their job search and developing their careers.

“The problem is the fact that there [was] no career-pathing system,” Samimi said. “We have been looking to close the gaps in communication and help people to navigate their career journey map.

“If you used to be a construction worker back in Syria and you want to be a construction worker in Toronto, you don’t really know how to start.”

To combat this, Samimi said the Livelihood Project is currently developing its mobile application. Here, it will use artificial intelligence to assess an individual’s skills, create them a personalized career map and support them along their journey.

“We figure out if you are a fit for an upcoming job,” he said. “We do a behavioural assessment to make sure that you are personally a good fit for the job, and we identify your skills and operations to find out if you will be job ready.”

Just like the Fitbit — an activity tracker that gives motivation and follows users along the way to their personal goals — Samimi said he will support his users.

“I am going to motivate you by sending messages and kind of engaging you through the app,” Samimi said of the application. “I am going to prevent you from saying ‘I can’t do it.’”

Starting out as just the two of them in 2016, the Livelihood Project has now expanded to 12 people. Coming from a wide range of backgrounds — including Syria, Ethiopia, Somolia and Sudan — the new employees are assisting in pilot testing and the ongoing development of the career coaching platform. Not just operating in the digital sphere, Samimi said they own a cafe in Toronto. Here, these employees are learning skills in leadership, communication and teamwork.

The idea behind the cafe is that the Livelihood Project hires these people — who are newcomers and don’t have much work experience — to create the program itself. “We are working together where we hire these people so they can communicate with the Canadian community, they learn through doing stuff and serving food and coffee,” Samimi said.

Recently, Samimi was awarded $5,000 from Mitacs — another not-for-profit group — and was one of five winners for its Entrepreneur Award, given to those who demonstrate sound business planning, entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to continued excellence in innovation. Samimi said the money is going towards funding the mobile app.

Samimi said the project calls for the beta to be on the market in 2018, with a full-scaled launch in 2019. Until then, the Livelihood Project will focus on its cafe, developing the application and starting its training programs in the next few weeks.

When asked about how he wants the Livelihood Project to progress over time, Samimi said he hopes the application gives people a sense of community — something he received in Kingston.

“To be honest, Kingston taught me a lot about people and communities and connections, and it is helping me a lot because we are focused on people.”

By: Joseph Cattana