Welcome to the Coworking Values Podcast, your favourite coworking podcast. (we hope!)
And this time our guests are from Power.Coders. And if you are not familiar with them, they are a non-profit association in Zurich, Switzerland that offers IT internships to refugees. They currently have 2 school centres in Switzerland and 1 in Italy.
We have two remarkable women from the PowerCoders team, the power team Coline Sauzet and Magaly Mathys. They are behind the Powerhouse Romandie in Lausanne, a coworking, training and meeting place for women, refugees, migrants, professional, enthusiasts of the IT field, basically anyone that wants to learn about the field.
Coline and Magaly are going to be talking about how the Power.Coders and the Powerhouse Romandie came to be, and how their community grew. They will also share about being an intercultural and intergenerational space and the importance of providing a safe space for everyone especially for the refugees who want to study or work on their personal projects.
Why is a safe place important?
And it is really about the atmosphere, to make everyone feel like they are welcome. And we do not have a welcome desk, for example, it is just like whenever you walk in our space, it is really open. You come and you are directly in the open space.
And usually, there is always a host every day to just come to people and say: Hey, do you want a coffee? Do you want a tea? Do you want an ice-cream? Because we have ice cream. Do you want a glass of water? And just feel free to sit anywhere and visit the space.
It’s important because in some coworking space, people have this feeling that they are not really welcome, because if they don’t have a specific project to work on, or they don’t have a business to run, they cannot come to a coworking space.
Well, that is a feeling I have. Coline, what you would define as a safe space or welcoming space?
Coline: Yeah, it’s also because that we realized that there are not a lot of spaces where refugees or people who don’t have the money to pay a desk, they don’t have any place to go and just study or work on a specific personal project.
For example, we now have some refugees coming into study and take online courses, and they just needed a quiet space to work, and that is not always possible where they live. They still live in camps or in apartments with all the people.
And so, I think we are quite original in that sense because we welcome people who would not have this opportunity to work in a coworking space, or study.
And that makes us different from other coworking spaces, and also a place where people feel safe, because we also know this population, we work with them. We really tried to communicate this feeling of being tolerant with each other.
Bernie J Mitchel 0:04
Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this week’s episode of the Coworking Values podcast brought to you with our delicious sponsor who you will hear from now.
Zeljko Crnjaković 0:15
This episode is brought to you by Cobot, our leading management software for coworking spaces, office hubs and flexible workspaces around the world. You know, one of the best things about Cobot is that it is produced by people who manage a coworking space and know the ins and outs of the main problems and issues, bugging coworking managers. So, if you want more time for your co-workers and community, check out Cobot at cobot.me and take your coworking management to the next level.
Bernie J Mitchel 0:50
So, Zeljko, how is Belgrade at the moment?
Zeljko Crnjaković 0:55
I have no idea. I am not in Belgrade. So, I keep telling you that. I am about 200 kilometers from Belgrade. It is still sunny. It is still warm. It is still Corona friendly, or not, maybe. So basically, yeah. All things considered; it is okay. How is it in London?
Bernie J Mitchel 1:17
It is complicated, so we will not talk about it. The rules change every day but here in my delicious little local area where we shop locally, go to school locally, and never really have to see anyone outside our bubble. It is actually more than pleasant.
Zeljko Crnjaković 1:36
Do you have your own 15 Minute City?
Bernie J Mitchel 1:39
I have my own 15 Minute City and that is why I am campaigning so hard for it to all happen here. And actually, since lockdown we have discovered places to buy our food and get it delivered by local companies, and we have just started to… we have always used the park around our area. But we started to spend even more time, like five minutes up the road, there is a country park which mainly I have just run around in the past, but now we deliberately go and walk there. And we are just making more of the nature on our doorstep. And the nature on our doorstep is so exceptional because we live in zone four of London, so it is not somewhere you would naturally think to be packed full of nature. So, if you want to look up on a map, ladies and gentlemen that is where my 15 Minute City Is.
Zeljko Crnjaković 2:32
I am really proud of you, Bernie, really proud, using the park for what it is meant to be used. Okay, but let us not stall and let us see who we have on our podcast today.
Bernie J Mitchel 2:42
So, Magaly, and Coline, what are you known for? And what would you like to be known for? And what are you working on right now?
Magaly Mathys 2:54
Hi, Zeljko. Hi, Bernie. It is a real pleasure to be here. We are both in Lausanne, Switzerland. And it is really, really sunny today and really hot. So, we are both leading Power Coders for the French part of Switzerland. And we are mainly training refugees and migrants in IT. And we support them actually actively to find jobs in the IT industry here in Switzerland. And since the beginning of this year, we are really proud to have opened a new coworking space in the centre of Lausanne. It is a solidarity coworking space and we organize our trainings here. We welcome a lot of people here, a lot of meetups, lots of events, multicultural events, intercultural events. And, the aim is really to make people meet here, and create new and interesting collaboration. I am Magaly, and Coline is here as well.
Coline Sauzet 4:05
Hi, guys. So, my name is Coline and I am the Social Lead of Power Coders, Lausanne. I am part of the team of two, Magaly and I.
Zeljko Crnjaković 4:20
A small team but a powerful one. A lot of stuff happening there. Can you tell me either one of you who has more in-depth knowledge, so, Power Coders is not only a local enterprise or a local foundation in that sense, it started much bigger. So, what is the history behind Power Coders, and why do you do what you do?
Coline Sauzet 4:47
Power Coders started in 2016. It’s Christian Hirsig, an entrepreneur who founded Power Coders, because he wanted, first to support refugees to integrate the work market in Switzerland, and also to support the IT industry, who is lacking employees in the IT field. So, he created the association. And the main goal is to train refugees for three months so they can learn coding, and then we support them to find an internship in an IT department or an IT company in Switzerland.
Zeljko Crnjaković 5:31
Does that mean training people who have no prior history of coding or somebody who has already been in contact with programming or coding or whatever?
Magaly Mathys 5:43
So, we have both. We select participants really based upon motivation. And we have both people coming from Afghanistan or Syria and they have already known about it or even have Diplomas in IT. But we also have engineers, like marketing managers and people even like University teachers coming from various countries that apply to a program and who have an interest in going into the IT fields
Zeljko Crnjaković 6:21
Okay. How did you two come across Power Coders and why did it start up in Lausanne?
Coline Sauzet 6:29
Okay, so it started in Bern. We were not part of the project yet. And it came to Lausanne in 2018. I heard about it because at that time, I had just finished my university studies in migration and citizenships. And so, I was really interested in finding a job within the integration of refugees’ field. I found a job offer very simply. And I was very motivated to join like a small team trying to have a social impact on the lives of refugees in Switzerland. And for me, it was like, a bit like a dream job at that time, and it is still the case right now.
Zeljko Crnjaković 7:20
Fantastic. And what about Magaly?
Magaly Mathys 7:26
It became my dream job as well. But I did a lot of different jobs over the last years. Originally, I was a history teacher, and then I was working in marketing, event management and so on, and even web development. I am always following what I find really fun and entertaining and whenever I can help people. And over the last years, crisis migration crisis increased in 2015, I was involved in helping refugees here in Switzerland, also in Greece, where I’ve been like, and a couple of times on the islands. And yeah, I was trying to find a way to help people. And Power Coders was a project that I found really, really interesting. And when the team came to Lausanne, they reached out to me and we had a discussion and I really wanted to help and really wanted to be part of this project. And then I met with Coline, and then the rest is history. We have such a wonderful corporation. And we are so complimentary as well that we started like, two years ago working together, and now exploring new fields and developing ideas. And here we are.
Zeljko Crnjaković 9:13
Fantastic. Your place started 2018, and basically in these two years, what has been accomplished? How many refugees have you trained? And what kind of results has this program produced?
Magaly Mathys 9:36
Since 2018, we have done four batches for training sessions and each time around 15 students, and we have placed more than 60% students in companies for internships. We have around 10 to 20% of the students who now have a job, and we are still following up on them. We created a community around, not only refugees and migrants benefited from the program, but also we have a lot of IT trainers, a lot of IT professionals who want to give their time and energy to support the students and help with the training. We organize workshops, we also organize meetups. We do one on one trainings as well. And we try to create a whole network that people coming from abroad and who don’t have a clue about anything about Switzerland, can really find someone to help or people to help and really have a great sense of community here.
Zeljko Crnjaković 11:04
That is fantastic. Because I am just going to say, for the listeners, 60 people over two years is an amazing accomplishment. I know because we had been involved in the pre-qualification in IT program with the UNDP a couple of years back and we’re trying to get back right at this time, and we’ve trained about 16 people over the course of six months. And it is a really hard process for the participants. Going from zero to junior programmer is very hard work within three, or four, or six months. It is like pushing four years of university knowledge or whatever practical knowledge that you can into building a person that can be employable, not just the interested in programming. So for everybody listening out there, even though it sounds like it’s 15 people per training session, it’s a really, really hard task , and girls, it sounds amazing even so that these people or a percentage of these people already found jobs or internships. So, great work there. I am going to ask Bernie to continue on and maybe deepen the coworking section a bit or the space of it.
Bernie J Mitchel 12:28
Thank you for saying that last bit. That was great. We met because I put a little shout out around the European Coworking Assembly and Yan, one of the most integral parts of the Coworking Europe family, said, Oh, you have got to speak to these folks. And I asked about inclusion and diversity and local coworking and he kind of threw me through you two, in front of me. From your experience, we kind of touched on it in the first part of the interview, but how do you manage inclusion and diversity in so many people coming together in one place locally and from around to form that coworking community?
Magaly Mathys 13:13
Well, first of all, the coworking adventure started this year. Not really a great year to start a coworking space, I must admit. We were really fully ready in January and February and then we were really ready to rock with the IT trainings, and a lot of collaborations here, and then we went into lockdown, so it was pretty hard. But we spread the word among our community, the students, the alumni and also volunteers. But also, towards all the companies that support Power Coders about the coworking space. And now we have a really diverse public that regularly comes. We have our alumni and future students and also refugees interested in going into the IT industry, that come to study or try to meet to work on some projects. We also have loads of volunteer IT trainers who come here either to work or to try to meet with some students to help them. But we do collaborate also with other people who don’t have anything to do with Power Coders, because we think it’s also key to mix with all kinds of youngsters and we’re really trying to increase the number of women to come to the coworking space. But also to make them aware that tech industry and the IT industry is also open to them and to really try to organize some events and workshops to break some stereotypes about the IT industry and encourage women mainly to come here and to offer them a safe space. Because we are right at the train station, it’s also a safe space to come whenever someone would feel unsafe or would need a quiet space to come just to have a coffee and work for an hour or two.
Bernie J Mitchel 15:49
Can you almost spell out why a safe space is important? People Zeljko and I, if someone opens a coworking space, white men just appear from nowhere and fill it. And something we’ve discovered on our own over the last few years of paying particular attention to inclusion, diversity and accessibility is that, what might appear as a building for a man like me doesn’t occur in the same way for other people. So, can you say what is important to people, and why people might not feel as comfortable just walking in or depending on location and how the building feels?
Magaly Mathys 16:33
It is our point of view and we cannot say for anyone, but we would say that we try to offer a really friendly space where everyone is welcome. And it is really about the atmosphere, to make everyone feel like they are welcome. And we do not have a welcome desk, for example, it is just like whenever you walk in our space, it is really open. You come and you are directly in the open space. And usually, there is always a host every day to just come to people and say: Hey, do you want a coffee? Do you want a tea? Do you want an ice-cream? Because we have ice cream. Do you want a glass of water? And just feel free to sit anywhere and visit the space. It’s important because in some coworking space, people have this feeling that they are not really welcome, because if they don’t have a specific project to work on, or they don’t have a business to run, they cannot come to a coworking space. Well, that is a feeling I have. Coline, what you would define as a safe space or welcoming space?
Coline Sauzet 18:12
Yeah, it’s also because that we realized that there are not a lot of spaces where refugees or people who don’t have the money to pay a desk, they don’t have any place to go and just study or work on a specific personal project. For example, we now have some refugees coming into study and take online courses, and they just needed a quiet space to work, and that is not always possible where they live. They still live in camps or in apartments with all the people. And so, I think we are quite original in that sense because we welcome people who would not have this opportunity to work in a coworking space, or study. And that makes us different from other coworking spaces, and also a place where people feel safe, because we also know this population, we work with them. We really tried to communicate this feeling of being tolerant with each other. And, yeah, I would say that is the thing.
Bernie J Mitchel 19:39
That is great. I think it is really important for people to hear this type of thing in different ways because every situation is different. And when you listen to other people’s experiences in different places, it helps shape your own way to do it in your space. One last question, have you got any recommendations on how to reach people that are perhaps not looking for a coworking space but could use it? There is another podcast we have, Kofi from London, who runs a project called Urban MBA. And one of the things we’re doing there is helping called BAME people or non-white people in London, to find coworking because they just don’t know what coworking is, because it’s not something that occurs. It is not outside of the coworking bubble. Very few people know what coworking is. So, we are actively finding spaces in London that will like the Arc Coworking in Hackney to run those programs, a bit like you do Power Coders. But how do you reach those people if you have never been in contact and you want to help people in that way?
Magaly Mathys 20:58
So, what we do is we organize, for example, each week, friend classes given by volunteers and we advertise mainly through word of word of mouth. And mainly toward women because we try to focus on women. And we also organize initiation, like the discovery of what coding is. What is coding about? We organize small events, and we try to use terms that are not frightening to really say it is okay, everyone can learn. And doing those workshops or evening where we, we attract people for a reason, and they came and discovered this space. And then we say here, you can come whenever you have a project to work on. You have Wi-Fi here. You have coffee and tea. You have a quiet space. You have people you can meet. You can improve your French as well. And when they visit the space, they see how it looks and then we explain to them. We are a coworking space where we advertise for solidarity, which means that if someone can pay for a desk, or for a meeting room, or for a classroom to rent, and we do particularly low prices, but we ask you to add some extra amounts so that we can use this extra money that some people can afford to do some ‘suspended desk’ or ‘suspended meeting rooms’ for people who couldn’t afford it, so whenever they come, we don’t say oh no, you cannot pay, so you cannot stay. But they are saying yeah, no problem. You can stay and we will use a ‘suspended desk’ for you today. Usually it is really appreciated, otherwise they would have to go in a library or some other places or just stay at home. And yeah, sometimes they cannot and sometimes they do not even have a laptop. And we can also lend them a laptop here. But I would say to attract those audience, it starts with small events. And they would come either to learn French or to learn about the IT basics. Then we just say, okay, you can come back whenever you can and we can help you, like put you in touch with an IT trainer or someone who would like to help you to reach the goal that you want to reach, either improving of your language or work on a project. And that is how we usually talk about the space and advertise it.
Bernie J Mitchel 24:30
That is great. As I am listening to you there, you are nearly exactly describing Space4 which is in Finsbury Park in London. So, if you cannot get to Switzerland, folks and want to have a similar experience, go to Space4, we will link to that in the show notes. I have to hook Magaly and Coline up with Polly from that space. Where can people go to find you online? Websites and Instagram and all those types of things? But we can put links in the show notes. But scream out now where people can find you.
Magaly Mathys 25:01
We do not want to scream now. You will find us on the website powerhouses.ch. We had to add an s to powerhouses because we aim to open other powerhouses hopefully soon in Zurich. You will find there, all our events and everything about the Powerhouse, and you will have links to our Facebook page and Instagram and Twitter and so on.
Bernie J Mitchel 25:34
That is brilliant. We will put links in the show notes for you listening at home. So, there is a little flurry of announcements here. Number one is the 15 Minute City webinar with Laetitia and Antonin. Laetitia is an author and a massive thinker. She is actually where I get all my good ideas from. She introduced the idea of the 15 Minute City.
Zeljko Crnjaković 26:01
That is next Monday. It is already here. So, there is not another podcast episode before that.
Bernie J Mitchel 26:09
It has gone so soon. I am in shock there, ladies and gentlemen, and also a book called ‘The Feminist City’, which we will put in a link in the show notes to that as well. And then the other big thing is coming up at the end of October. Listen carefully, folks. Coming up at the end of October is our fifth European Freelancers Week, where we encourage coworking spaces and co-living spaces to run events for freelancers. And obviously, a lot of that will be online this week. So, if you just type in Freelancers Week Europe, it will come up to the website, and there’s information on the European Coworking Assembly website there. So, we’re running calls every week for people who want to run events, so you can all meet, help each other out and whatever country or size coworking co-living space you’re in, you get to connect with people. And then you get to help other people run things. And in those calls, people overcome lots of the – what platform should I use to invite people to host the event? Do I do this? Or do that? What is important for freelancers in my country at this time? So, you can get over a whole load of people together to help each other, to then help a bigger group of people. And there is always one thing I forget, Željko, what is it?
Zeljko Crnjaković 27:25
I do not know, I was just thinking that it is very good that you just said people overcome, and then you numbered these things, because that can mean so much. When people come together and they overcome different fears and phobias and stuff like that because, if you are running these meetings, we can imagine all sorts of talk going on there.
Bernie J Mitchel 27:50
This podcast started as a therapy session for me and Zeljko, and look what is has turned into, folks.
Zeljko Crnjaković 27:56
They need to sign up for our newsletter. That is, it.
Bernie J Mitchel 28:00
That is it. And if you go to coworkingassembly.eu and wait for 10 seconds, a little box pops up. We email you directly and then you can hit reply and it comes back to Jax, Jeanine and I and we can answer questions. And that is how a lot of guests come on this podcast. That is how people find out what better software to look for. What to do about GDPR at the moment. It is amazing what people email back and ask, and we are always happy to help. I think that is everything. Say goodbye, Zeljko. Thank you very much to our guests, Coline and Magaly.
Magaly Mathys 28:39
Thank you. Bye.
Coline Sauzet 28:41
Thanks a lot. Bye.
Bernie J Mitchel 28:43
And thanks for your attention this week, folks. Stay safe. Bye.