In our series “Catching up with …”, we catch up with former IMPROVERS to see how they are doing and what they are working on!
Stephanie and Mbali are IMPROVE alumni. We’re curious to find out what they’re up to these days at Expectalent. Expectalent is a socially innovative company that supports internationals to connect, integrate and find access to local opportunities.
How did you come up with the idea for Expectalent?
Stephanie: “Four years ago, I moved from Ghana to The Netherlands to study here. After I graduated, I found out that it is difficult to find a job in the Netherlands as an international. I was very lucky to get a job in a small international company. However, it definitely wasn’t my dream job.
A lot of my friends left Nijmegen after graduation and I found myself feeling somewhat lonely. So, I told my friends that I had the idea to start an African organisation in Nijmegen, to find social connections and local communities. On an intercultural night, I met my co-founder Mbali Mbuyisa. She is from South Africa and experienced the same problem I did, namely that she couldn’t find any other African students in Nijmegen to connect with, even though we both knew they were there. We told several local citizens about the problems we encounter and our idea to create an African organisation. The reaction was quite shocking: they were under the impression that there was already a lot in place for us as internationals. That’s when the idea for Expectalent was born: we create a big community where internationals can connect with locals and local industries.
We got in touch with Mercator Launch and decided to apply for the IMPROVE programme. We have learned how to validate our idea. The programme really motivated us to become more active in writing proposals, pursuing projects and basically ‘selling’ our product. We talked to Radboud University and the Municipality of Nijmegen and they were really excited to get involved.”
What are you currently working on?
“Right now, we’re working on two research projects together with the Lindenberg and Stadsschouwburg Nijmegen. We’re looking into how inclusive they are and how open these organisations are to everyone. The Lindenberg asked us if we could help them reach more international people in Nijmegen. More often than not, the intention within organisations is good and they do want to include more people, they just don’t know where to start. Next to our research projects, we’re working on projects for the anti-racism awareness week and education week. For the summer, we’re planning to organise events and even a little festival for international students. We are very happy to have a couple of projects lined up for Expectalent already!”
What challenges did you face over the last year?
“Local organisations are sometimes hesitant to trust us because we’re not Dutch. Additionally, not everyone recognizes what needs to be done about inclusivity. So, we have to keep talking to people. We have made some very good connections that help us get in touch with more local institutions. For instance, Mathijs Buddingh of the Municipality of Nijmegen has really helped us a lot.
What is your ultimate goal with Expectalent?
“Our main goal is to not only have an office in Nijmegen, but that we’ll be active in other cities as well. We want to create valuable communities in parts of The Netherlands that currently don’t have a lot in place to facilitate connections between the international and local communities.
What inspires you to do better every day?
“Our motivation is that we don’t want any other international (student) to feel as lonely as we once did. We want people to have good experiences in their host cities and feel that they made the right decision to move there. We want to try to make people feel more at home. It takes a lot for someone to move away from their country and start over on their own. Our ultimate goal is to create an environment where international people feel welcome and included. And that’s what we work hard for every day!”