In today’s discussion, we continue the theme of inclusion with our next guest Emmanuelle Werner Gillioz, the founder and director of Yojoa. Yojoa is a nonprofit organisation that empowers young people with a migrant background to become autonomous and productive members of society. The mission is to bridge the gap between organisations and talented young people from diverse backgrounds in order to provide more opportunities and strengthen the company.
Listen to our conversation to hear the benefits of a diverse workforce from both angles.
Emmanuelle shared that one of her favourite music artists is Stromae. An artist that she always listens to is Ibrahim Maalouf, the trumpet player and her favourite song is True Sorry. She also highly recommends the book, 40 Rules Of Love by Elif Shafak.
Hello and welcome to another episode of Narratives of Purpose. My name is Claire Murigande. I am a scientist by training a TEDx speaker and your host on this show. This podcast is dedicated to amplifying social impact by bringing you inspiring individual stories of ordinary people making extraordinary impact within their communities and around the world. If you're looking for a programme that showcases unique stories of changemakers, stories of people who are contributing to make a difference in society, and at the same time you want to be inspired to take action, then look no further. You are in the right place. So get comfortable and listen to my conversations.
This week's episode is the final episode of our inclusion theme that we addressed throughout the month of April. My guest today is Emmanuelle Werner Gillioz. Emmanuelle is the founder and the director of Yojoa. This nonprofit based in Geneva, Switzerland, is a job accelerator, empowering young people with a migrant background to become autonomous and productive members of society. In this conversation, Emmanuelle talks to me about how her organisation supports companies in their journey towards diversity and inclusion. She is convinced that inclusion is the answer to society's pressing issues, and only those who jump on the bandwagon today will be tomorrow's winners. Please take a moment to rate and review our show wherever you get your podcasts and for now, listen to Emmanuelle's journey and her vision to develop solutions for economic inclusion.
So hi Emmanuelle, welcome to the podcast.
Thank you, Claire. I'm very happy to be here.
So it's really great to have you and I'd really love to hear from you about your organisation. But before you talk to me about Yojoa, can you start by presenting yourself? Who is Emmanuelle, just a bit of background for our listeners.
Emmanuelle is a 45 year old woman. She's the happy mother of two children aged 13 and 10. She's the happy wife of a wonderful man. I think Emmanuelle has a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, in the sense that I just love launching stuff. I love launching products, launching organisations, launching ideas, and initiatives. I really like this initial phase of...You have your idea that is really motivating you and you're bringing people around the table and you're inspiring them so that they're buying into what you want to do. And creating bridges, mobilising forces and seeing that it's all falling into place is something that I love doing.
So a very, very active entrepreneur, as I gather from what you're saying. And the fact that you love to bring people around you and lead them or drive them towards a specific goal. So is that the background really of Yojoa? How did it start? Tell me more about your interest.
Yeah, so you know, I've been working with and for organisations, pretty much since the beginning of my career. And I think that as I grew older, the need or the will or the desire to launch my own organisation, my own baby was getting stronger and stronger. So before working for Yojoa, before launching Yojoa I was working for a social enterprise called Friends International which is based in Cambodia, and I lived in Cambodia and launched the Swiss office, and I was pretty much the captain in the boats at the time already. But it was not mine. It was not mine. You know, this is one of the reasons why I decided to launch Yojoa. I needed to do something in this field of diversity inclusion.
Exactly. So let's come to that basically, Yojoa is all about diversity and inclusion. And your approach is to help companies who want to take on that inclusive culture for their employees, to help them actually recruit young people with a migrant background, and specifically in Geneva. So tell me more about how you work with these companies?
When I launched Yojoa the idea was really to develop a more inclusive, contribute to the development of a more inclusive culture economy by on one side helping young young talent who have a migration background unlock their potential in the workforce. And, and also accompanying companies towards a more diverse and inclusive culture, basically we were working with those young people, which I love calling "talents", because they have a lot of talent, all the young people we are working with, have a migration background, which means that most of them came to Switzerland when they were teenagers, most of them came unaccompanied. So they migrated on their own without their family and arrived in Switzerland, Geneva, at the age of 15, 16, 17, 18 with very strong life skills, because they've been exposed to extraordinary situations. And so, they had to develop a lot of resilience and ability to adapt, etc. So, they are coming with a lot of skills. But, of course, obviously, they have a lot of gaps in their academic background. For most of them, the big objective is to access apprenticeship, which is very strong in Switzerland, that will allow them to access dignified work. But from the beginning, we felt that we can prep them as much as we want, we can accompany them and boost their self confidence as much as we can. If the doors of the companies remain shut, because they have a funny name, or they have a funny colour, we're only doing part of the job. So at Yojoa, we felt that we needed to act at a more systemic level, by addressing those barriers to, you know, employment for underrepresented groups. And so working on diversity and inclusion has been key from the beginning, and helping employees to understand more about diversity and inclusion to understand the benefits. And this is also an angle that we are taking. We could address this work by you with the angle of social justice but we've decided to really tackle and promote diversity, from a point of view of performance benefits - actually you don't know it, but you need that. It's gonna be good for you, it's going to be good for your business, it's going to be good for your profits, it's going to make you stronger and better as a business.
So basically, you're addressing the business aspect to say that diversity and inclusion, tapping into the talents and the potential pool of the people who are locally available, it's going to be a lever for performance for you as a business?
Exactly. You know, we're giving businesses access to a pool of talent, which represents a form of diversity. But we've also developed some services for companies to first understand what we mean by that diversity and inclusion. For some companies, diversity is all about women, people from ethnic minorities, or it's about people with handicaps. And so we're coming in through our workshops, etc, to really discuss "what we mean by diversity," and can we talk about your own diversity? Because we're all made up of multiple identities. So we encourage people to reflect about their own diversity, and we're trying to break those silos because diversity for us is not about groups. It's much wider than that. The first objective is to develop a common understanding of what we're talking about, a common understanding of diversity. And it's interesting, because some companies, when you're asking the staff about their perception of the level of diversity in the company. Some of them think that the company's super diverse, some of their colleagues think that the company is absolutely not diverse. And then, because they're not looking at the same criterias. And so we're, you know, offering audits as well. So we're putting a spotlight on "Okay, let's look at today, what is the level of diversity present in your organisation?" And we're looking at plenty of criterias - social economic background, education, religion, agenda, etc. And then it's really interesting to show them and to say, "okay, so yes, you're very, very diverse in terms of the number of nationalities for sure. Not very diverse in terms of origins, or in terms of religion, or in terms of, etc". So it helps them understand what we're talking about.
So previously, you mentioned workshops. So do you do workshops, specifically only for the companies? And what do you do with the youth to break it down a little bit to just tell us how you operate?
So yeah, so basically, we have up to, you know, two different programmes. Within Yojoa, we have Amanda who's working on our diversity and inclusion programme for companies. And then we have Manuel, who is working with the young talents, and basically, it's about helping them develop their professional project. "So what do you want to do? What are you interested in? What do you want to try?" and then helping them find internship opportunities for them, they can also understand the codes and how you behave in a company. And then we're helping them with the postulation and applications to find apprenticeships, but we've just launched new projects right now that actually last much longer to work on social skills. And when I say social skills, it's really about their self esteem, their ability to communicate, their ability to create connections with other people, their ability to develop relationships to network, but also helping them to identify their strengths. And this is something that's really interesting, because for us, when you listen to their stories, you're like, "Okay, guys, you're just... I don't know how you manage, you guys are just superheroes, okay?" Because they went through so much, and they faced situations. And they're standing and they're looking forward, and you're like, wow! They have no idea about their own strength. When you tell them, "Do you realise how much strength you had to pull out to face this situation?" They're like, "Oh, wow, really?" The whole idea here is really to help them identify why they're extraordinary young people, why they're remarkable young people. And then to embody that exactly towards employers. And it's all about body language, what people feel about you, if we can manage to help them or support them, so that they are proud about who they are, proud about their story, this would be for us a huge success. And today, one of the big ambitions of Yojoa is to shift the paradigms, moving from migrants or refugees or our problem to actually those young people are part of the solution.
Exactly. And you're basically also empowering them to own their story and use it as a strength. And at the same time working on the, I would say social economical environment, so that locally, they see this as a strength also for the local community. Speaking about the companies you work with without naming names, are you working across the whole industry? Or do you have a target or you're really open to every organisation, every company?
We're really open to any company, I mean, we're really passionate about accompanying whoever on this journey, because we are passionate about this theme and the topic. And I wanted to say it's building bridges between worlds that were 'not supposed to meet' but when they meet, you're really witnessing transformative stories on both sides. So we're working with companies across the spectrum. Having said that, it's true that big companies are the ones who have the resources, the time to dedicate to this topic, we're working with medium and big companies, I think today's a good time to push diversity and inclusion, because it's coming, it's coming to Switzerland, it's been, you know, it's been the case for a long time in the in the US in the UK. But now it's becoming a topic in Switzerland, which was not the case, I think, some years ago. More and more companies are interested in contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the more and more tune in to this and diversity and inclusion is definitely a part of contributing to a more sustainable, equitable, economy, society. So we have more leverage, I think and companies are more and more looking at how they will be able to attract the younger generation as a workforce, the Gen Z, and there are some very interesting studies about who those young people are, those young people have very strong values, because they're inheriting of a world as it is today, which is very different from our generation. So I think what we see is that they want to work for companies that have strong values about inclusion, and sustainable development, etc. And more and more companies are looking at this, the world of talent is a big theme for them. And they're also understanding that to be appealing tomorrow, and to have a competitive advantage tomorrow, they have to move certain lines in, they have to put some stuff in place.
Basically, it's easier to have this conversation, if I understand you correctly, nowadays, because things have changed. And I don't want to say that there's pressure, but it's basically a reality. And as a business, or as a company, you have to be also in sync with that reality, right? But going back to Yojoa and the collaborations you have, do you have any success stories or something you could share with us? Like a highlight?
Yeah, we have, we have a lot of success stories, and at many levels, it can be a young person who was very inward looking and shy, and to be placed in one company to get the feeling that they belong somewhere for three weeks, for two months, for three months. There's a team that is waiting for this person, for this young person every morning. The sense of belonging is something that can totally change someone. When we first meet the young people that are sent to us by the Social Services, and I always like to compare this first initial meeting with them with a couple of months later, when you see them after the first placement - it's night and day. The body language and the smile, and the sparkle in your eyes is. It's amazing. It's really amazing. We had our first three jobs last year. So the first three young people we placed in their first job. So that was a huge success story for us, because it's possible and it works.
Now, I'm just changing gears a bit, because I know that, first of all I saw that documentary on TV, but I also know that, so I saw it on Swiss television, and I also know that in March there was this film festival in Geneva, the FIFDH, so the International Film Festival on human rights. And there was this documentary apparently that was screened about a young migrant who fled, if I'm not mistaken Eritrea, and he spent quite some time in Switzerland in Geneva and a few years and he had already had his apprenticeship, he had a job and so on. But what I want to address now with you is basically the system I know we can not, we are not gonna speak about politics, we're not here to change the system. But the fact is that even with all your help, with all your support and the ecosystem you put around these young people, there's also at some point, no guarantee in the sense that you know, they can be a political decision that is made to say, okay, this person cannot stay in the country, and they need to leave, right? So I want to hear from you, as you are close to them, so how does this affect them? Because all the efforts are done, and you see things are moving, and suddenly everything just breaks down? How does this affect the young people and also the people around them, in this ecosystem that you create to support them?
So actually, the young, you know, the young man, you're referring to me, but who was one of our success stories, because of the asylum policies and system, for a very long time, his claim for asylum was under revision, etc. And this took, this process between the first claim and the very definitive answer took years, he did everything that the society was expecting from him, he learned French, he integrated and found an apprenticeship all by the books. And what is not okay, is that the system is letting people settle before giving them a definitive answer. And even when he got this definitive answer that was, "you're not entitled to asylum in Switzerland," which means that "you can't continue your apprenticeship and basically, you're stripped of all your rights, the rights you had before." It's a dead end, because Switzerland is not getting in this case, Switzerland was not going to send him back to Eritrea, because there's no readmission, a court policy, etc. So those people are stuck. They're stuck, and with no future, etc. So when you said, you can't change the system, we're gonna change this system!
That will be my next question actually, what is your power of influence? I mean, not only you, your organisation, but also every other structure working around this.
We are really ready to do whatever it takes to get this situation fixed. Because today, there's some 50 young people who are what we call Debute. So they have all spent a couple of years in Geneva, and most of them are fully integrated. They all speak French, they're all, you know, studying or in training or something. And they all received a definitive negative answer, to the acclaim. And Switzerland is now, with the situation in Ukraine showing its best and showing that actually, it's possible to welcome refugees, which is wonderful news for all of us. So now, we're just gonna raise the attention to this particular situation, the case of 50 young people, this needs to be fixed ASAP. It shouldn't be even a question because you can't, on one hand, open your Frontier to 1000s of refugees, and on the other side not do anything for 50 young people who are fully integrated in the society.
It's great. I think it's very holistic, because you're really taking into account every level as you say, so the individual, the organisation and society at large. So basically, the policies and so on. So my, I would say very naive questions, because you said before you like to start new things, initiatives, but how challenging is that? And what challenges did you face mostly that you at some point, you tell yourself, "Oh, my God, I'm not going to make it" and how do you stand up again, and continue?
I think it's just about managing your level of energy and being self aware of your limits. And I'm talking like, this is all natural, etc and I'm mastering it, which is absolutely not the case. But as you grow older, you learn. We just went through a pandemic. There's a lot going on, but we're at a very exciting time because we see a lot of opportunities and we're slowly, slowly getting more known. So it's buzzing. And I would say that I just need to be self aware of when to get some time for myself and just breathe.
So on that point about being self aware did you have at some point throughout your whole journey, some specific advice that you found quite useful and still, you know, keep in mind at this point?
I got some advice that I found super useful. And that was not long ago, someone just told me focus, the key to success is focus, focus, focus. And as I tend to be the squirrel, to be distracted, I think that's something that speaks to me and I need to do it more. And also Claire, the power of letting go! This is super powerful. And it works. It works. You know, sometimes you're just so anxious and annoyed about something and you take a step back, and you're like, "Okay, I let this go" and it just falls into place.
Great. That's, that's some good advice, focus. And let go. One last question. So looking forward, what is ahead for Yojoa? You know, do you have any specific things that you can share with us on the next steps for your organisation?
We're still very much in the process of developing, so developing our services, getting more companies involved and developing our processes with the young people. But I think that we would love it and the vision a little bit for Yojoa is really to become an actor of reference on the theme of diversity and inclusion in the region. First, because we're passionate about this topic. Second, because we're in the field of consulting and services, but also, we have one foot on the ground ‘sur le terrain’ as we say, in French, we're experiencing it, and we are living, and we're seeing and we are in contact with diverse talents, which I think makes us unique. And we'd love to facilitate maybe forums on diversity and inclusions or be the one who creates the space of discussion with a lot of different actors on diversity and inclusion.
Emmanuelle towards the end of the conversation with my guests, what I like to do is to ask three very short questions about what you listen to in terms of music and what you're reading. My very first question is, do you have something at the moment, a song that you're listening to on repeat, or if not a song, what is the book that you're reading right now?
Song and actually an album, I'm a huge fan of Stromae, I'm a huge fan of his songs.
And my second question is, is there a piece of music or even a book that was very special for you at a specific time in your life, and why?
There's an artist that I always come back to when I'm in those transitional moments in my life, or, you know, those moments, so you know, that some stuff is changing. And it's taking so much energy and you dig deep into yourself, and at those moments, I always listen to Ibrahim Maalouf trumpet player, and there's one song that really talks to my heart, which is "True Sorry" I really recommend it. It's beautiful.
And last question is do you have an all time favourite? I know you spoke a lot about music, but do you have an all time favourite band or book?
There's a book. I really, really loved it. I read it last year. It's a book by Elif Shafak, who's a British Turkish author. And the book is called 40 Rules of Love. And it's about the relationship between the poet Rumi, the 13th century century poet Rumi, it's about the relationship between this poet and his spiritual teachers, which was called Schanz. And it's all about love. It's really about the essence of our presence on this planet. I really recommend it because it does you good. And especially in those times. I think it's a nice one to have.
Before I let you go, I have one final question and it's about the name of your organisation, Yojoa, which is spelled YOJOA. So what is the story behind that?
Yeah, it's a funny name right?The story is that it's simply the acronym of Youth Job Accelerator - YOJOA.
Thank you so much for your time.Thank you for the conversation. It was really a great pleasure and I am excited to see how Yojoa is going to evolve.
Thank you, Claire, thank you.
Implementing an inclusive business culture is most certainly the way forward no doubt about that. It is also essential to work in a holistic and coordinated manner with stakeholders across the public and the private sector. And this is exactly Yojoa's approach in order to accelerate migrant youth's chances to access training and employment. At the same time, they're helping companies that prioritise diversity and inclusion. Learn more about your job on their website at your joy.co that is spelt yojoa.co. The link is also available for you in the show notes. Thank you so much for tuning in today. I appreciate you taking the time. That was episode number 34, a conversation with Emmanuelle Werner Gillioz. Be sure to leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like our show, remember to tell your friends about it and share within your network. You can also connect with us through our social handles or our website. Until the next episode, take care of yourselves, stay well and stay inspired.