Coffee and consultations: Meeting WiFi Refugees founder Andi Jarvis

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  • WiFi Refugees presents an interesting concept. Meet a marketing expert in a café, get some free, professional advice, and a nice coffee to boot.

    To some, that idea may seem too good to be true – marketing experts and their skills certainly don’t come cheap. Indeed, all Andi Jarvis asks of his clients is a small donation to Wifi Refugees. Sync NI met with the marketing consultant, speaker and trainer as he launched his first WiFi Refugees consultation event.

    WiFi Refugees was set up by Andi Jarvis, in what he calls a direct consequence of “being human”. The side project allows Andi to work extensively with small businesses and startups, whilst assisting the business of Northern Ireland’s ever-growing number of independent cafes, as well as the country’s refugee community.

    After moving to Bangor from Bradford in 2010, Andi says it’s been a great seven years -“I’ve been involved in some great things and met some brilliant people. I’m settled here now, I love living by the sea. Bradford is about two hours from the sea in any direction, so the change of scenery is really lovely here in Bangor, right next to the coast”.

    Given Andi’s busy schedule, one could be forgiven for wondering how the marketing professional can make the time for work on behalf of refugees. Spending three years with The Tomorrow Lab as a Senior Account Manager, Andi is well versed in spending time with clients, and by extension, finding solutions to their problems. “I have a little more free time at the minute, so I’ve had a lot more time to launch Colab, which teaches small businesses how to create efficient marketing strategies.

    Northern Ireland is a small-business economy - the incentive behind launching Colab allowed us to work with these smaller businesses – that’s part of what I love doing. From there, WiFi Refugees is something I have decided to do in my spare time – although I do know that “spare time” is an interesting phrase! If something is the right thing to do, then you can always find the time to do it”.

    In Andi’s line of work, coffee shops have become a second home. Finding himself jumping between coffee shops in search of strong WiFi and a good coffee, he originally coined the term to describe his pattern of work. “I’m the sort of guy that has about 15 different loyalty cards for cafes all over Northern Ireland. So, it was a tongue-in-cheek way of talking about the way that I worked at the time. I just decided I could deliver marketing advice from the cafes themselves… so the name started with a different meaning. Now I’m doing this work on behalf of refugees, the name works well!”

    Throughout our conversation with Andi Jarvis, the founder of WiFi Refugees makes it clear that he is keen to give something back. It took over three years for Andi to feel totally settled in Northern Ireland. “I had all the advantages. I’m from the UK, I speak the language, I have a passport, I have the right to work here, I have money and a family. And I thought, if I had all of these advantages, and it took me this long to settle – if you are a refugee who has fled a warzone, and don’t speak the language too well, you’re not allowed to work until your asylum application has been processed. I thought, how can I help people settle here?”.

    Indeed, all of the proceeds from Andi’s WiFi Refugees marketing consultancy workshops will be donated to charities which provide aid to refugees. “I know a couple of people who would love to get involved. I want to run a few testers and test events, but the idea would be to get a couple of people in different parts of Northern Ireland. The coffee shop wins, local businesses win, and most importantly, the refugee community wins”.

    According to Andi, marketing strategy is something that has been made “more confusing than what it has to be”. The opportunity to demystify such concepts is what keeps Andi ticking: “Social media is probably the hottest topic at the minute. Everybody wants to know how to do social media, and everyone wants to know how to do social media better. People seem to think because it is free to set up a social media profile, it’s cheap. The fact is, it simply isn’t. Beyond that, its mainly digital issues, whether that is the website, the ranking on Google, some issues come up time and time again”.

    Although the project in its early days, Andi has been encouraged by the response of the café’s he works out of. “They’ve been absolutely brilliant, they really have. They helped me to promote it at any opportunity – it really has been well received. It costs the coffee shop nothing, and if anything they are going to make at least ten new customers who will come in and buy a cup of coffee”. WiFi Refugees was to witness a successful launch at Bangor’s Red Berry Café – Andi’s favourite spot for coffee and cake – “I have spent hours upon hours in that café – working, spending time with my daughter, working on my dissertation – so that’s my go to place, with the view of the harbour”.

    As WiFi Refugee develops, Andi calls upon those with marketing problems to wake up and smell the coffee, and avail of the free marketing consultations – all for a good cause.

    WiFi Refugee events are being held in Belfast and Bangor next month. To find out more about WifiRefugees, or to donate visit wifirefugees.org.

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