What inspires an ex-banker and oil & gas tech professional to establish a non-profit organisation (NGO)? If there’s one thing my life experience has taught me, there is more to giving than having.
The Flipping Point
Growing up my father always spoke about New York with great admiration. He used to travel there a lot for work, and I thought this must be the place to be. My parents were divorced so any opportunity to be close to my dad seemed like the right choice.
After graduating from college in Greece, and without a second thought, I moved to NY in search of a job and chasing the dream. Having no previous working experience in Finance I managed to land a job and my immigration journey had just begun. Working in the USA as an immigrant is no small feat. Those work visas have a finite life span and if you are not careful in timing everything right, you can end up in a different country with a month’s notice without intention. Like me! After three years in NY and after graduating from my master’s, I decided to change jobs and move my six-year visa to a new employer meaning another three years of work permit left at the time. My new job was keen to sponsor my green card to become a permanent resident, but despite all good intentions, timing was off. Everything started a bit too late. I unexpectedly received a call from a paralegal, who was preparing my documents, asking me ‘where am I planning on spending the one year that I need to be outside the US while my green card was being processed?’
I was confused to say the least. Why do I need to leave? I have a visa. Why can it not be processed in parallel? Shocked and scared I picked up the phone and called my lawyer. She explained that by the time the green card was approved I would be already ‘out of status’ and would not be able to work in the USA. Therefore, I had to find another job, in another country and move within a month!
During that time, I was a banking professional working with clients and most banks had a hiring freeze due to the economic crisis. I had no choice but to open my mind to learning a new skill. Everything I knew could be irrelevant I thought, and I might need to start from scratch. I was not in a good emotional state. I was angry at the situation; I was angry at my lawyer, at HR, but mostly I was angry with myself. How could I let this happen to me? Being an economic immigrant, you have to accept the fact that for some time you are dependent on your employer to simply exist in the US. I was never comfortable with that.
Acceptance and inspiration
Luckily, I managed to find another job that required my client facing experience to run a big program that the bank was starting in London. I made the move with very low expectations, leaving behind my friends, my boyfriend and the life that I had been building the last 6 years. But life had a positive surprise for me. The minute I opened up and embraced the change things were looking pretty bright. Work was fun! I was learning every day and I had a great team of really caring and helpful people. I made friends very quickly and I was having a great time. Looking back, it was probably the best thing that happened to me. But I was supported. I was supported by a big corporation that gave me options and the ability to move my life to another country and live respectfully while continuing to grow professionally. And this is something I never took for granted, because I experienced what it feels like for everything to change in a day, the need to help others started growing in me. If my example was a happily ever after story, I can help others who are not that privileged and supported to have a second chance in life.
Since then, humanity started becoming more prominent in my mind. How a small action, the pure sense of creation can benefit people in need? What can social entrepreneurship bring to this world and how can I combine and use my skills to do that in the most effective way? These were some of the questions in my mind for years.
There are thousands of people displaced in the world. People who had to flee their countries, leave their job, lose their homes and belongings and send their children afar to find a better future and opportunity. Not as economic immigrants necessarily like me, but rather victims of violence, war or natural disasters. This has been happening for many years now and humanity is playing catch up. Social integration is very low on the priority list of most governments and as Ai Weiwei put it in his book ‘Humanity’ in reference to refugees: ‘’these people are mute, are invisible’’. And I add: with very little hope to rebuild their life.
I come from a beautiful country, Greece. A country known for its culture with amazing weather, beautiful islands, clear blue sea and nature with an outstanding combination of wild greenery and dry landscapes. But although we are known for our hospitality and people are kind at heart a paradox exists: a large majority are xenophobic (Greek: ᾽ξενοφοβικός᾽), meaning not easily accepting diversity.
There’s an irrational fear that the foreigner or different person (Greek: ‘ο ξένος’) will hurt us. And with that projection we extend very little help and kindness towards them. Young immigrant children growing up in Greece face bullying and racial injustice and that’s been accepted, generation after generation. People who may be poor or live on the margins also experience similar treatment.
The issue has become even more obvious the last 5 years with big waves of refugees entering the Greek islands and the country unprepared and unable to provide the basics, exposing Greece’s lack of infrastructure which comes across as inhumane.
Thinking back to my first years in the US feeling very privileged to have a roof over my head, I was lucky enough to compete in the labour market, put my resume out there and look for a job. Unfortunately, in Greece not everyone is able to exercise that basic right.
This summer, while working remotely from Greece, I knew it was time to give back in a meaningful way, and I started my NGO CuriousIQ. It was created to respond to this unfair and ongoing situation in a country with so much potential. Not just for the refugees that enter the country but for any marginalised person on the edges of the Greek society. Young people who are mute and invisible in the eyes of the government. Untapped talent who if given the opportunity can thrive and become invaluable contributors to our society.
I strongly believe in the power of education and the freedom this gives any human being in changing their lives. Giving someone home and shelter are great actions of love and care, but they don’t help people become independent nor enable them to change their lives. We want to help those in need transform their lives in a world of inequality, injustice and insecurity, that has been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ultimate goal is to train those from marginalised groups with technological skills and place them in jobs that will help them become independent and create a better future for themselves. Students will have the chance to build their knowledge, test themselves in the job market and gain working experience which is absolutely necessary to move forward and create a new future for themselves. And most importantly become part of a community of people with similar experiences and passion to rebuild their life.
Join the journey
As my story demonstrates, being open to change creates opportunities and brings advantages, however you need access and choice to make things happen. CuriousIQ bridges that gap. While, as with any other NGO, we will not be around for a long time as if successful we will achieve our primary goal to close the gap and serve a need in the world. However, we know the world faces many challenges and there are too many people needing our help.
This is only the beginning of this journey. If this story speaks to you or inspires you in any way, I encourage you to do something about it. You can check our work and see how you can be part of it to help us achieve it.
There are so many people who need your help. And you will only know the magnitude of this when you start.
And the time to start is now!