HUBweek Change Maker: Wafaa Arbash
Founder & CEO of WorkAround, winner of the 2017 Beantown Throwdown at HUBweek
Wafaa Arbash arrived to the United States from Syria in 2013. A student at Brandeis University, Wafaa is also the Co-Founder and CEO of WorkAround, a social enterprise focused on connecting displaced people around the world with the digital economy to reduce poverty and restore their dignity to build sustainable solutions. Her company took home the grand prize at this year’s Beantown Throwdown during HUBweek.
Q: Tell us a little bit about what inspired you to start WorkAround.
WorkAround started with me as part of my Master’s Thesis at Brandeis University. I was working on my Master’s in Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution. As a Syrian, I really wanted to help the Syrian community with access to a variety of opportunities because I know that many of them are educated and talented. Donations to the crisis in Syria are just not sustainable and they do not help the refugees restore their dignity as displaced workers.
Q: WorkAround connect companies to untapped pools of talent. What is the process for refugees to join WorkAround ?
We source our workers from our partnerships with local NGOs like Paper Airplanes. We begin by providing the workers with surveys and tests to see what their skillsets are. From there, we assign tasks and provide them with feedback.
Q: What was the process of turning your idea into action like for you?
When I had the idea and I knew that there was a need in the market, I started talking to people in the Boston area and the innovation community to identify people who would be potential customers. I would ask them if they would hire someone overseas to help complete tasks, and if they said yes, I would ask them what their concerns were and what the process would look like for them. WorkAround is a social enterprise, but it is for profit, so we needed customers to actually make it happen. I then started studying and looking into their businesses and what their pain points were to identify how we could provide a service that would help relieve those pain points.
Q: In retrospect would you have done anything differently when you first started? Is there anything you wish you had known?
I wish I had known more about the resources that are available for entrepreneurs in the Boston area. Right now, I still feel overwhelmed by the amount of resources — there is so much going on in the Boston scene. So, I wish I had known that from the beginning so I could have taken advantage of the resources and opportunities.
Q: WorkAround was founded by women and is currently run by an all-female team. How did your team meet?
We met through our school at the Heller Startup Challenge at Brandeis in 2016. After we won the competition, we kept going and that is how it all started.
Q: What is next for you and WorkAround? What does success look like for your team one year from now?
For next year, our goal is to reach 100 companies and partner with online universities to help our workers continue their education online if they want. We are also hoping to build our software and continue building our sales.
Q: If companies and potential customers are interested in learning more about WorkAround, who would be the best person to contact?
They can reach out to me personally via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Last question. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
When I came to the states, I was only supposed to stay for two months. Four and a half years later, I’m still here with my two masters degrees and my startup.
Meet and interact with Arbash and dozens of other Change Makers during the first Change Maker Conference on Oct. 8–9. Learn more and register now.
The HUBweek Change Maker series showcases the most innovative minds in art, science, and technology making an impact in Boston and around the world.