Tag Archives: Guinea


WeWork is hiring, mentoring, and training 1,500 refugees

If you work at WeWork’s Times Square coworking office, you might see Mamadou Diallo stocking a coffee station or cleaning a conference room. He’s been on the job for a little over eight months. Two years ago, he was forced to flee his home country of Guinea as a political refugee, after his active membership in an opposition party. “I had to leave the country not to be killed by security forces,” he says. Diallo is one of dozens of refugees that WeWork hired last year; over the next few years, it will hire hundreds more.

Mamadou Diallo [Photo: WeWork]

The company, which has locations in 73 cities, began working with refugees in a grassroots pilot project in early 2017, when employees in New York reached out to a local office of the International Rescue Committee to invite the nonprofit’s refugee clients to start applying for jobs. “Six months later, we had hired over 50 employees, and the pilot was so successful it actually started organically growing to Chicago and Boston,” says Mo Al-Shawaf, WeWork’s director of partnerships and special projects. By November, the company had decided to set a larger goal: Over the next five years, it will hire a total of 1,500 refugees.


WeWork has 5,500 employees now but is quickly growing, and has a similar commitment to hire 1,500 veterans. The numbers are targets that the company was confident it could meet. At the time it made the commitment to hire refugees, WeWork CEO Adam Neumann said that it wasn’t a political statement. WeWork had just seen that the pilot worked well, and saw the program as a way to help address a global problem.

To date, the company has hired 150 refugees from more than 25 countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Tibet, in 10 cities in the U.S. and the U.K. Many, like Diallo, begin in WeWork’s “community team,” working in its office spaces. But the company is also beginning to test new programs to support advancement. In New York, a nonprofit called Inclusion–itself a WeWork member–is offering coding education. Diallo, who in Guinea had his own store selling cellphones and accessories, is now learning to code, and hoping to later move into a position in the WeWork’s tech team. Using the coding skills he’s gained to date, he also built a website for an education nonprofit in Guinea.

“We look at these [roles] as starting places,” says Al-Shawaf. “When you are starting over, we want to make sure that we can give you an opportunity and meet you where you are, but we also want to make sure that we’re investing in your growth and that you have those pathways to be able to grow within WeWork.” The company is also working with Upwardly Global, an organization that helps place high-skilled refugee talent, to fill roles in finance, IT, and operations.

WeWork members have been overwhelmingly supportive of the program, Al-Shawaf says. That’s in contrast to the experience of some other companies that have made large commitments to hire refugees; when Starbucks announced a plan in 2017 to hire 10,000 refugees globally by 2022, it faced a backlash from some customers (and praise from others). Chobani, similarly, was targeted with threats and a boycott from white nationalists for its own hiring of refugees. “Our community has been incredibly supportive and receptive,” says Al-Shawaf.

[Photo: WeWork]

Some community members now play pickup soccer with the company’s refugee employees. The company hopes to encourage its 50,000 member companies to hire refugees themselves. WeWork hopes to inspire other companies to make similar commitments. “We’d love to be able to have this be a competitive race for talent that’s happening, both for refugee populations and nontraditional populations, everywhere,” he says.

The refugees that have been hired have been likely to stay on the job. At the moment, the retention rate is around 80%. The company has taken a few measures to help welcome new arrivals, including monthly lunches that introduce refugee workers to others on staff, and mentorship programs that pair refugees in the coding program with both technical and non-technical team members. It plans to use its space to host more English lessons. Diallo says that he has recommended the job to other refugees.

WeWork is now expanding the program to the U.K., where it will partner with Breaking Barriers, an employment service for refugees, which will offer English classes in WeWork spaces across London. In Latin America, WeWork will begin hiring refugees in Brazil and Colombia, where an influx of people are fleeing from Venezuela.

As the company hires more refugees, it’s getting better at “identifying non-traditional experiences and skills and mapping them to current functions and roles,” Al-Shawaf says. The same is true as it hires veterans. “It’s helping us as a company to understand how do we bring in diverse talent everywhere, and really be able to cement what we’re building here, which has to be a welcoming community for everyone.”

Human or android? You know in less than a second

It can be hard to tell the difference between humans and androids in science-fiction TV shows like Westworld. But in real life, the human brain takes less than a second to tell between reality and fantasy.

“This unique visual mechanism allows us to perceive what’s really alive and what’s simulated in just 250 milliseconds.”

The findings show that humans are visually wired to speedily take in information and make a snap judgment about what’s real.

Scientists have discovered a visual mechanism they call “ensemble lifelikeness perception,” which determines how we perceive groups of objects and people in real and virtual or artificial worlds.

“This unique visual mechanism allows us to perceive what’s really alive and what’s simulated in just 250 milliseconds,” says lead author Allison Yamanashi Leib, a postdoctoral scholar in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. “It also guides us to determine the overall level of activity in a scene.”

To keep us sane, brain ignores tiny visual changes

Vision scientists have long assumed that humans need to carefully consider multiple details before they can judge if a person or object is lifelike. “But our study shows that participants made animacy decisions without conscious deliberation, and that they agreed on what was lifelike and what was not,” says senior author David Whitney, professor of psychology.

“It is surprising that, even without talking about it or deliberating about it together, we immediately share in our impressions of lifelikeness.”

Using ensemble perception, study participants could also make snap judgments about the liveliness of groups of objects or people or entire scenes, without focusing on all the individual details, Whitney says.

“In real life, tourists, shoppers, and partiers all use visual cues processed through ensemble perception to gauge where the action is at,” Yamanashi Leib says.

Distraction skews actions and perceptions differently

Moreover, if we didn’t possess the ability to speedily determine lifelikeness, our world would be very confusing, with every person, animal, or object we see appearing to be equally alive, Whitney adds.

For the study in Nature Communications, researchers conducted 12 separate experiments on a total of 68 healthy adults with normal vision. In the majority of trials, participants viewed up to a dozen images of random people, animals, and objects including an ice cream sundae, a guinea pig wearing a shirt, a hockey player, a statue of a wooly mammoth, a toy car carrying toy passengers, a caterpillar, and more.

Participants quickly viewed groups of images, then rated them on a scale of 1 to 10 according to their average lifelikeness. Participants accurately assessed the average lifelikeness of the groups, even those displayed for less than 250 milliseconds.

In another experiment to test participants’ memory for details, researchers flashed images, then showed them ones that participants had seen as well as ones they had not. The results indicated that while participants had forgotten a lot of details, their “ensemble perception” of what had been lifelike remained sharp.

“This suggests that the visual system favors abstract global impressions such as lifelikeness at the expense of the fine details,” Whitney says. “We perceive the forest, and how alive it is, but not the trees.”

Source: UC Berkeley

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talking on phone

How funny messages from ‘Polly’ can fight Ebola

parrots and phone for Polly ebola program

Researchers are using people’s interest in phone games and wacky humor to help spread urgent health information in Guinea.

The phone project, called Polly, began operating in March through the US Embassy in Guinea, where the current Ebola epidemic began in December 2013 and where people are still grappling with the outbreak.

This week, Polly is part of an anti-Ebola campaign in Forecariah, a territory in western Guinea hard hit by the virus.

Polly is simple in concept: a caller records a message and Polly adds funny sound effects, such as changing a male’s voice to a female’s voice (or vice versa), or making the caller sound like a drunk chipmunk.

The caller can then forward the message to one or more friends, who in turn can forward it along or reply to it.

To use Polly, someone only needs access to a simple phone, widely available even in developing nations, and need not be able to read or write. Polly thus has the potential to “go viral,” becoming an important means of communicating with large numbers of illiterate and semi-literate people in remote areas.

Job ads and public health

In Pakistan, where Polly was first launched three years ago, and later in India, the phone service was used to link people with recordings of job advertisements. In Guinea, Polly links to recordings of health information, initially provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, more recently, by Guinea’s own Ebola Coordination Unit.

Roni Rosenfeld, professor in the Language Technologies Institute (LTI) at Carnegie Mellon University, says he and colleagues began adapting Polly to the health application last year, as they watched in dismay as the Ebola epidemic spread.

“We knew that one of the problems was a lack of information, particularly in remote areas and in the local languages, which was exactly what we try to alleviate with Polly,” says Agha Ali Raza, a Fulbright scholar who just completed his PhD in language technologies. “Our hope is to reach enough people to make the epidemic weaker.”

As a Muslim, he also saw it as an obligation to help. “I don’t know if we’ll be successful, but I just want to make sure that I have tried my best,” says Raza, who is returning to his native Pakistan to join the faculty of Information Technology University in Lahore.

Wolfe, a returned Peace Corps volunteer, made connections that put the group in touch with the US Embassy in Conakry, Guinea. The embassy staff, Rosenfeld says, proved “very interested, very supportive, and very responsive.”

Working long hours on a shoestring, with some support from the LTI and from Raza’s Fulbright scholarship, the group has now implemented a version of Polly featuring the funny voices and others that provide information to the general public and to health care workers.

Local languages

Though community health care workers have undergone training, almost all educational material is only in French, the language used for official communications in Guinea. By providing them with information in seven locally spoken languages, Polly can serve as a memory aid or, when someone questions the workers’ advice, provide a message that has the ring of authority.

Once accepted as a reliable source of information, Raza says Polly could be used to respond to all sorts of emergencies and for a variety of communications.

“The Embassy definitely views the project as a long-term investment,” says Kimberly Phelan Royston, US Embassy Guinea’s spokesperson. “Guinea is gearing up for presidential elections in October, and we see potential to use Polly for a get-out-the-vote campaign where users can connect with friends and family to encourage them to go and vote, for reporting instances of voting fraud and as a reference manual for poll workers.”

The technology behind the service is inexpensive; in fact, the biggest expense is air-time, Rosenfeld says. One reason it was deployed first in Asia is because calls cost just one or two cents a minute there; until recently, air-time in Africa could cost 25 cents or more per minute.

“To us, getting inexpensive air time is critical because we’re going to be making hundreds of thousands of calls,” Rosenfeld says. “We’re targeting people who might make one or two dollars a day, so we can’t make users pay for it.”

The Language Technologies Institute is part of the university’s School of Computer Science.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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