From Syria to Stockholm – Roula’s #Sthlmtech Story

A key factor in any company’s success is their ability to attract and retain the right talent. Whilst at the helm of Mynewsdesk’s expansion and now marketing organisation I have done my fair share of recruitment as the company has scaled from 15 to over 200 employees.

One recruitment however stands out above all others and I wanted to share it with you. It is the story of how we recruited Roula Bazerbashi, a Syrian national who’s talents have become central to the ongoing development of our business.



Mynewsdesk is a PR SaaS business headquartered in Stockholm Sweden. Whilst Stockholm and Sweden in general punches above it’s weight in terms of producing tech successes on a global stage both the country and the industry faces a major challenge.

Whilst many initiatives highlight the importance of gender equality in technology a comprehensive view of the benefits of  diversity to businesses are severely lacking. The Stockholm tech scene sadly remains dominated by white men who come from privileged backgrounds and I include myself in that group.

On the other hand, in my view one of the reasons Sweden will succeed in an ever globalising world is through the open immigration policies of recent years. Most technology businesses I know in Sweden and beyond are creating products and services for a global stage. At Mynewsdesk we have users in 104 countries. Therefore in order for us to be successful our organisations need to reflect this global stage and we need to attract top talent to make us successful. And that’s why we should get back to Roula’s story.

Here is the full story in Roula’s words

A Foot in the Door

About 12 months ago on a Sunday evening I received this Linkedin message from one of my colleagues in our HR/People team.

Hi JB, Check this profile out. I know her briefly from church (her husband started in the choir). She used to teach marketing at the university in Damascus before she had to move. She doesn’t know Swedish yet but is a quick learner. Maybe you have some contacts that could result in a job opportunity for her or maybe we could figure out some other way to help her out (internship or equivalent). She is good at numbers/analysis. Let’s talk more. 

My colleague was just doing her job, as she headed an organisation that was responsible for talent acquisition at Mynewsdesk and had come in contact with a candidate which she knew I may be interested in.

The key takeaway here is that Roula met Ulrika at a social gathering, a choir practice. Although it is still essential to know how to present yourself in terms of a CV, Linkedin profile, cover letter etc the real change in attitudes to people with a foreign background comes in one to one physical contact. To get your foot in the door you need to get out there from beyond the computer and truly meet people.

The Win Win for Employer and Job Seeker

At the time I was building a new marketing organisation at Mynewsdesk. Although I had a varying amount of talent across the organisation one of the capabilities I severely lacked was in research and strategy. Seeing Roula’s Linkedin profile, including her educational and professional experience I knew she could be of great help to Mynewsdesk.

At the time, however I had no extra budget for this position which was a challenge. After inviting Roula in to meet with her and having confirmed that she was a talent that could be a great fit with my needs I set about thinking how we could bring her onboard.

I had no budget but I decided to take some money from elsewhere and offer Roula a three month internship. This was a no risk senario on my side and 3 months would give us the opportunity to evaluate whether there was a good fit between us. My thinking was that if Roula provided as much value to the organisation that I thought she could, after three months we could justify extending this arrangement.

On Roula’s side any entry into the Swedish job market would be a positive experience and give her something to use on her CV and provide contacts and an extended network to give further job opportunities if the whole thing with Mynewsdesk didn’t work out.

Once You Get an Opportunity Use it

From 3 month internship to full time employee, it didn’t take Roula long to prove her talent to the organisation. Today Roula is our CEOs Executive Assistant and the co-ordinator of many of our strategy, innovation and marketing projects.

Some of the Projects that Roula has played a pivotal role co-ordinating include a revised company vision and values, customer value proposition,  competitor analysis, strategic plan, product vision, new product launch and brand repositioning.

All these projects involved multiple stakeholders across the organisation and not only did Roula have the chance to interact with all these people people but she also took the chance to demonstrate her talents to everyone involved.

It was not long before Roula was stolen from me by our CEO who was on the hunt for a capable executive assistant who could operate on many levels and thats where her full time journey at Mynewsdesk continues today. Fortunately Roula’s talents are still available to me and I love working with her on numerous projects.

Power Distance is the Difference

When I asked Roula in our interview earlier this year what was the main difference when it comes to working in Sweden compared to the middle east her answer was clear, Power Distance. Hofsetede fans and students out there will recognise these 6 different dimensions of national and organisational culture and the data proves Roula right.

The biggest gap (51 points) between Sweden and Syria is regarding power distance.

Screen Shot 2016-12-16 at 10.16.08.png Power distance is all about the “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally”.

In Sweden the flat management culture, lack of hierarchy and consensus decision making means there is a very low acceptance of power distance whereas in Syria it’s the exact opposite.

“I don’t need to call the CEO Mr and I can even sit down and have lunch with him.”

This reality is difficult for both sides though for both employer and employee. In my experience it is so important to be aware, embrace and use cultural difference both national and cultural as business builder and driver of growth and profit.

Networking is your Key to Success

When we concluded our interview I asked Roula what her tips were to newly arrived job seekers in Sweden searching for work. Her clear answer was – Network, Network, Network.

Roula’s foot in the door came from a network opportunity at a choir practice in a Stockholm church but the question is where are Stockholm’s technology and other business leaders meeting this explosion of talent that is coming to Sweden.

Its not surprising that Mitt Liv, the organisation that provides a meeting place for  people with a foreign background and Swedish business leaders was earlier this year voted Sweden’s leading social enterprise and one of the top 10 Human centred businesses of 2016. Roula did not need their help but many people out there do.

“It’s a bit difficult for Swedish people to open up but once they do, they are really helpful.”

Well thats Roula’s story so far and I am looking forward to working with her as we grow the Mynewsdesk business. My final message in this post however is to all business leaders out there in Sweden and beyond. Those of you that are desperate to grow your businesses and succeed. Take advantage of the global talent that is now on your doorstep.

Hire someone who looks, sounds or worships differently to you. Don’t just play lip service to the buzzword that is diversity, actually do something about it. Believe me your bosses, investors and owners will thank you for it and you may well become insightful and more open minded person in the process. Now that’s a win win in my book.

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