RECODE, a Malaysian refugee-focused coding academy, has just joined HOST International as an education and livelihoods programme. Its co-founder Jeanne Makinadjian will also be a part of the HOST team as Program Manager and will lead the implementation of the program alongside a local Malaysian team.

Jeanne, welcome to HOST. Can you tell us about RECODE and how you founded this company?

I trained as a lawyer and worked in pro bono legal advice and representation for asylum seekers and refugees undergoing refugee status determination before UNHCR Malaysia. I loved and still love law and enjoyed the client-facing side of the job tremendously. But after a few years, I could not help but feel that although my job was done on the legal front, there was something missing. I was telling clients on a daily basis that resettlement was very unlikely and that reality became even more so with Trump’s election. But how were they supposed to survive? I started receiving requests from my clients for help with securing employment. I felt powerless as I did not have the capacity nor the ability to help with this, and I knew too much about the legal constraints attached to it (refugees do not have the right to work in Malaysia).

In 2017, my husband went to business school and while he was there, I decided to explore business solutions to the livelihoods issues refugees and asylum seekers face in Malaysia. On a seven-hour drive from Fontainebleau to my hometown, Aix-en-Provence, my husband and I discussed many ideas that could improve refugees and asylum seekers’ lives in Malaysia on a long term scale. We landed on a coding school for three reasons:

  • Coding is the most in-demand skill in the world (500,000 ICT professionals needed in the EU by 2020* and 200,000 in Australia by 2023**)
  • Coding can be performed remotely
  • It is a very lucrative profession (average freelance pay for an experienced programmer in SE Asia is 49 USD per hour)

I came from the humanitarian sector and my husband from the business sector but neither of us were coders. We enrolled the help of Sangya, my husband’s classmate, who used to be a teacher at General Assembly, one of the biggest coding schools in the world. She helped with all the technical aspects of the school and is our link to the Silicon Valley.

We moved back to Malaysia in September 2018 and after many conversations with refugee coding school founders, livelihoods and coding professionals, we decided we had to test our idea and launched a series of weekend workshops in collaboration with Microsoft and Accenture.

Stephen and Jeanne

I met Stephen, HOST’s Regional Manager of SE Asia, shortly after and here we are now!

What is RECODE’s mission and its objectives?

At RECODE, we believe that you should not be defined by your refugee status. Coding skills are assessed on actual ability rather than official qualifications, you do not need to go to university to become a coder. All you need is motivation and perseverance.

 

 

 

Our mission is to help refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia:

  • find freedom from employment exploitation
  • find work remotely internationally or locally as programmers and developers and
  • gain independence as the next wave of refugee entrepreneurs

Our objectives for this year are:

  • to run at least two full-time boot-camps and one part-time, with as many students as possible graduating
  • to secure employment for a portion of our graduates through freelance, project or full-time/part-time jobs
  • to bridge the gap between two communities that do not often interact by opening our programme to non-refugees
  • Our long-term objectives are:
  • to advance refugees’ right to work in Malaysia
  • expand to other cities/countries

How do you think partnering with HOST will benefit RECODE?

There are three reasons why I think partnering with HOST will benefit RECODE.

1. Values

We share HOST’s values, specifically those of innovation and dignity.

I believe the humanitarian world needs to fundamentally change in order to achieve long lasting impact. It has largely functioned based on grants that have immensely restricted the long-term vision of humanitarian actors. Most non-profits I worked for were focusing on the immediate issues they could solve and legitimately so, but this was done at the expense of long-term results. To be part of an organisation that values innovation and is willing to take a risk by investing in long lasting impact is a real advantage for RECODE.

When we ran our first workshop, the feedback that struck me the most was when one of our students said “finally, someone that treats us like normal human beings. I knew this would be hard, but now that I’ve gone through this, it seems so much easier and gives me confidence that I CAN do it!”.

Bringing dignity and hope back to our students is a value RECODE abides by and is thrilled to share with HOST.

2. HOST’s experience and resources

HOST brings not only its years of operation but the many years of experience from its staff and I look forward to learn from them as much as possible. My interactions with Stephen have shown he is a mine of information, ideas, and solutions and a great support in my journey to launch and manage RECODE.

3. Vision for sustainability

When we founded RECODE, it was very important that it be sustainable. We did not want to rely constantly on grants as we felt it would largely restrict the overall impact. From the start, we focused on creating a sustainable business model that would guarantee that RECODE would fund itself. I was happy to hear that HOST had a similar vision and was willing to support RECODE in achieving this vision.

We are currently working towards a model where non-refugee paying students (from Malaysia and other countries) subsidise the tuition for refugees. For the portions of refugees who have the right to work, we are working towards a hiring/placement fee model charged to the employer.

How does the application process work and when’s your next round of intake?

Running the workshops was a great way for us to size the interest of the refugee community and fine tune our approach to teaching. We received more than 200 applications for only a handful of spots and received excellent (positive and negative) feedback from the refugee community. What those workshops have mainly taught us is that our students value being considered like any other student regardless of their refugee status. So, RECODE is like any other coding school!

We plan to teach a robust web development curriculum over a three-month full-time boot camp and a six-month part-time programme. We chose to focus on one of the coding languages that is the most used in the world, JavaScript. To summarise, when you like a photo or a page on Facebook, it has been coded using JavaScript. Our full-time course will be taught by our instructor, Joel, who is a passionate and experienced programmer, while the part-time course will be taught by some of our amazing volunteers.

The application process is threefold:

  1. Application form, including an essay on why the applicant would like to join the programme
  2. Coding test for shortlisted applicants. We do not look for completion of the task but rather how the task is completed/done
  3. In-person interview for shortlisted applicants where we examine further motivation and growth mindset

At the end of the process, we select 20 of the best applicants to start our full-time programme. The next intake will be in May 2019. Through our previous workshops, we have already identified some star students and hope to see them make it to the final round.

Keep an eye on this space for the latest updates on RECODE and HOST.

* Digital Skills & Jobs, European Commision. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/policies/digital-skills

** Redrup, Yoland. “ACS Digital Pulse: Australia needs 200,000 more tech workers in five years”. Financial Review. June 27, 2018. https://www.afr.com/technology/acs-digital-pulse-australia-needs-200000-more-tech-workers-in-five-years-20180627-h11x07