Vidya Ram

Brewing up business while empowering asylum seekers

| Updated on: Sep 10, 2017
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PIO entrepreneur Pranav Chopra’s chai venture is helping refugees in the UK

A chance conversation at a North London restaurant with a group of refugees brought home to entrepreneur Pranav Chopra how having an asylum claim accepted was not the end of the difficult journey many undertook seeking refuge in Britain.

Finding a sustainable livelihood remained a major challenge, with employers often paying little regard to the years of experience or academic study they’d built up at home — whether as a political journalist or as a mechanical engineer. “The unemployment rate within the refugee community is around six times what it is in society… I really wanted to tackle the issue ... getting that first job in the UK,” says Chopra, who was born in New Delhi but has lived in Australia, New Zealand and now the UK. He was formerly a management consultant.

Last year he set up NEMI — formerly Chaigaram — a UK-based business selling Indian tea blends to cafés across Britain as well as tea stalls at markets across the country.

Chopra hopes to expand to other areas, focussing on fair-trade produce from food and coffee to clothing, with a focus on helping refugees and others who struggle to get on the employment ladder, including the homeless and ex-offenders.

Filling a gap

He hopes that it will tap into rising demand for and knowledge of chai (tea) across the West, and has advisors from some of London’s top Indian restaurants, including Vivek Singh from the Cinnamon Club. “We want to make chai a household name across Britain and believe that we would be filling a significant gap in the market.”

To date the company has taken on 12 refugees, many of whom have moved on to other jobs, further education and in one case even setting up a self-owned business. “Some have applied for hundreds of jobs but never been given a chance before.”

Chopra has teamed up with the Refugee Council, a UK-based NGO working with refugees, to identify people who would benefit from working with them.

Running the tea stalls has proved particularly helpful to refugees reticent in using the English-language skills they’ve built up, and needing only a nudge to build up confidence.

“They are making freshly brewed tea, practising their English, educating people about chai , the spices and the health benefits,” says Chopra.

A foot on the ladder

As the business scales up, he hopes to be able to give refugees more and more opportunities to exercise a diverse range of skills from being regional sales managers, to accounts, and media.

“My aim is to build a franchise model of tea stalls across Britain run by refugees.”

NEMI is one of a small but growing number of enterprises focussed on helping those who need initial help getting onto the career ladder, such as refugees, the homeless and ex-offenders. Others include employment agencies such as Transitions London and Breadwinners, a bread delivery company.

“Refugees are not here by choice: they have to be here — they’ve often lost entire families and gone through dreadful experiences to get here…those who’ve worked with us are so passionate about what we are doing and we can often gain a lot from them and their diverse experiences,” he says.

Published on January 10, 2018

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