Earlier this summer, Andi Jarvis launched Wifi Refugees, offering free twenty minute marketing sessions to local businesses, in exchange for a donation to a local refugee charity. David from Soarscape was the first person to drop in for a session.
Andi is a marketing consultant. He knows that small businesses often don’t have the budget to get professional marketing help, so he started this philanthropic venture that combines helping businesses, a refugee charity, and the independent coffee shops that he runs his drop-in clinic in for two hours each month.
The inspiration for the project was hearing David from Outside In speak at the recent Power of Video Conference in Belfast. The social movement and clothing supplier operate a Wear One Share One model: when you buy a garment from Outside In, they send you one and they donate another to someone who is homeless.
Hearing David’s story gave Andi the impetus to stop sitting on the idea and to stop sitting on his own idea and get on and implement it. The conference was on a Friday, the website was built by the Sunday and he launched Wifi Refugees on the Tuesday or the Wednesday.
At the moment Andi runs clinics in Belfast (The Bobbin Café in Belfast City Hall) and in Bangor (The Red Berry café). He explained:
“I spend two hours there. You can come along, first come first served, and spend twenty minutes getting help with some marketing issue. It tends to work best with more of a narrow marketing issue as twenty minutes goes quite quickly.”
In return, you’re expected to buy a coffee to support the café who are allowing him to sit at a table running the two hour sessions, and you’re encouraged to donate to a local refugee charity. The money he raises will be given to Embrace NI. Some colleagues in London and Leeds are keen to extend Wifi Refugees to their cities.
“All you need is somebody with a professional background – in my case it’s marketing – who’s prepared to give two hours a month. It’s not the biggest commitment really for any marketing expert or whatever. You need a coffee shop that will let you sit down in their place for free.”
He wants the money to always go to a local charity working with refugees. While Wifi Refugees is Andi’s project, the concept is repeatable and adaptable by individual, groups, charities or churches.
“I have referred to myself as a ‘wifi refugee’ for many years. It was a tongue-in-cheek name. Part of being a marketing consultant means that you spend a lot of time working in coffee shops and you’re always looking for good wifi and good coffee. So you’re bouncing around from one place to another. It was a term I’d used for years and years and years. So that helped.”
But Andi also knew about being an outsider, and a newcomer to the community he now lives and works in.
“I’m not from Northern Ireland, I’m from England … I speak the same language, I have rights to work here, I’ve moved over here with a good job, I had family here at the time. Everything was in my favour.
“And it still took me four or five years to settle and feel like this was my home.
“And it made me think, how do you settle and make this place your home when you’ve got none of those advantages? You’ve maybe come from a warzone and had to leave everything behind, you don’t speak the language, you can’t claim any benefits, you can’t work. How do you really get to make this your home? How do you settle your family? How do you get ingrained in the local culture?”
While Andi appreciated the fantastic work being done elsewhere in emergency camps and sea crossings, he realised that “the problems that refugees face don’t go away just because they get to somewhere that supposedly a developed nation that’s going to help them”.
“That’s the end of the first part of the journey, the rest of it starts then.”
For Andi, with his background of migration and settling in, supporting refugees in his local area felt like the best fit.
If you know of a project that is helping refugees in your area, get in touch, particularly if it’s model could be shared or adapted elsewhere in Britain and Ireland.