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Mariza Fotiou, Founder of CuriousIQ. (Photo: Courtesy of Mariza Fotiou)
NEW YORK – CuriousIQ Founder Mariza Fotiou spoke with The National Herald about the digital learning platform and employment support organization for those in need. Vice President of Digital Product Design for BP, Fotiou is based in London and previously held various managerial roles with HSBC Private Bank both in New York and London, including Digital Chief Operating Officer.
TNH: How did CuriousIQ come about?
Mariza Fotiou: CuriousIQ was born during the pandemic in response to an unjust and ongoing situation in Greece, a country with enormous potential. As an economic immigrant, I had the privilege to live and work in the United States which helped me build a successful and fulfilling career. CuriousIQ was my life’s inspiration, a way to give back to people who come from underprivileged backgrounds and want to rebuild their lives and accelerate their careers. With all the increasing geopolitical unrest, more and more people will be in need of integration. Additionally, digital skills will only continue to drive demand for tech talent in the years to come. These two parameters and my strong drive to help those in need led me to create CuriousIQ.
I strongly believe that social entrepreneurship brings the evolution the world needs and boosts inclusion. So, I found a way to combine and apply my skills to make a difference for every marginalized person who lives on the edges of society. The goal is to upskill underprivileged people in digital skills and advance employability by helping them find a job in the tech industry.
Our program is unique because it offers a holistic and personalized approach to each individual. Beside our core technical training of data analytics, we offer certification in English language and career skills to prepare our candidates for the job market. These include: CV building, interview preparation, personal branding, etc. We also offer a community where our students can feel included and find likeminded people who have suffered a lot but have the courage and determination to change their lives for the better.
TNH: What has been the most challenging aspect of founding the non-profit?
MF: Founding a non-profit in Greece is by no means an easy task. Not only from an administrative perspective but also for the fact that over the years there has been a lot of misplacement of funds from the EU and other governmental bodies that unfortunately did not go towards the benefit of those in need.
Starting off in this space, it has been very important for me to partner with the right people and organizations who share the same values and ethos of transparency, inclusion, equality, and integrity.
One of the areas that have been the most challenging is the placement of our graduates to good data analytics jobs. For us, the most important thing is that we help them identify their future employers in organizations in which they can grow and excel in their careers for years to come. This has its own challenges as companies are becoming more agile and prefer to keep liability low by focusing on project-based outcomes which ultimately means staying away from full time employment.
Currently, we are building an apprenticeship program for our graduates in order to obtain their first paid work experience in data analytics and build a portfolio of projects. We are open to partnerships from every industry who are looking for experts with hands-on expertise using the latest technologies in the world of data. Our graduates have experience in using the latest analytics tools in the market to solve the most common problems faced by any organization through analyzing their data. They are able to collect, clean and analyze data as well as uncover patterns in the data through the use of software development languages. They can create valuable insights for the organization’s performance and future growth. And lastly, they can build key performance indicators, perform ad-hoc analytics and understand how to build dashboards and reports for the management team of the organization.
TNH: What has been the most rewarding aspect?
MF: For me personally, the most rewarding factor is to see our students get through our program and land a job that they really love. Making a difference in other people’s lives is truly rewarding and could not compare with any other feeling.
Also, the growing demand from volunteers who want to give back to their community, by offering their time and knowledge to our cause, is the validation that we are doing the right thing and we have support.
Working with like-minded people is really refreshing and hopefully, we can transform our communities to a more inclusive, more equal world.
TNH: How has your professional background influenced your work?
MF: My career started in the U.S. where I moved after graduating from my bachelors in Greece. I then pursued a Masters in Finance, graduating in 2009 from Baruch College in New York. After graduating, I joined HSBC Private Bank and worked there for about 10 years. I moved a lot within the bank and had some amazing roles that kept me growing professionally. I also gained exposure from working on two continents New York, U.S., and London, UK, eventually leaving as Chief Operating Officer in digital. In 2020, I decided to change industries and joined BP. Here, I lead the organization’s specialized digital product development teams to efficiently construct new digital services. Digital is one of the most vital skills to have if you want to make a difference in today’s world.
Thinking back to my first years in the U.S., I feel very privileged to have a great education and be lucky enough to compete in the labor market. Unfortunately, in Greece not everyone is able to exercise that basic right.
I was supported by a big corporation that gave me options and the ability to move globally, pursuing different career opportunities. Support is very important and this is something I never took for granted. Over the years the need to help other people who are not that privileged and supported but deserve a second chance in life, grew in me.
There are thousands of people displaced in the world. People who had to flee their countries, leave their job, lose their homes and belongings and send their children afar to find a better future and opportunity. Not as economic immigrants necessarily like me, but rather victims of violence, war or natural disasters. These people decided to come to Greece in pursuit of a better life. They are willing to upskill themselves, enter a different sector and start from scratch. And that’s where CuriousIQ comes in.
We’re bringing worlds together. We’ve discovered that times of crisis tend to be times of education and entrepreneurship. We are a team of curious, restless minds, who believe in the power of knowledge and the potential it gives every human being to transform their lives. We aim to strengthen our reputation as a great educational provider while also benefiting from the business continuity that few other NGOs offer. The program can benefit people from different countries and open doors that will create social mobility.
TNH: What do you see as the future of CuriousIQ in the next few years?
MF: Our most immediate goal at CuriousIQ is to grow our partnerships by building an apprenticeship program for our students and help them accelerate their career with easier and faster access to the market. We want to make sure that the companies we collaborate with have diversity and inclusion in the heart of their strategy and actually implement it.
The next step would be to open our program to new markets. Our program is now proven to have a strong foundation and can be offered online, which means we can serve different communities around the world. Finding the next market to expand will be really important for the growth of the organization.
Lastly, we are looking to create a more sustainable source of income. We are looking to build a scalable model where we can continue to grow as our community of graduates grows. A model that can keep our operations running and help us test new ideas and expand. This could combine extending our training program to corporates tailored to their needs to upskill their employees or collaborate with organizations in solving data related challenges they may be facing by offering consultancy services on a project outcome basis.
We aspire to become a place where opportunity is offered freely to all of our students who dream big and see their dreams come true.
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