Spotlight On… Mursal Hedayat (Economics 2015)

A rising star in social impact entrepreneurship, Mursal Hedayat is the co-founder and chief executive of Chatterbox, an innovative online language learning platform powered by refugee tutors, that uniquely connects learners with engaging native speakers using professional and personal interest matching.

After graduating from the University of Leeds, Mursal spent a year studying social innovation and inequality as a Year Here social change fellow. Whilst on the programme, she started Chatterbox.

As a former refugee to the UK from Afghanistan, Mursal was inspired to create pathways into professional careers for refugees after observing first-hand the vast untapped talent and potential residing in the refugee community. Chatterbox is backed by British and Silicon Valley investors and counts the Red Cross and five
UK universities amongst its clients.

She is a multi-award-winning entrepreneur, recognised by Forbes, MIT, The Financial Times, Ashoka and others. In June 2019 Mursal was featured on Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35.

How has your experience at the Business School helped you in your work?

It definitely taught me fundamental theories about micro-and macroeconomics that have fed into building Chatterbox’s business model and digital platform. The original inspiration was to connect highly skilled yet under-employed talent in the refugee community with demand online. What was also really helpful was the support of the teaching staff, without whom, I wouldn’t have been able to get through my course. Special shout out to Professor Gary Dymski – my biggest supporter and friend in the years I was at Leeds.

What are the highlights and challenges within your role?

Without a doubt it’s to be able to shape an organisation in a way that suits my own preference and beliefs. Having the freedom to work in the style and in a location that I want to, especially on a problem I find fascinating, that of the under-employment of certain marginalised groups. It’s very motivating and it gets you through the slightly harder parts like working an enormous amount more than maybe some of my friends who aren’t running their own companies; all those nights working on spreadsheets when your peers are down at the pub. However, I think it pays off with the freedom that comes from being your own boss.

What advice do you have for current students or alumni wishing to set up their own enterprise?

The advice I’d give is to connect with the most relevant network to the area in which you want to set your business. Whether it’s in fashion, technology or something very niche, it’s important to create those networks as early as possible. Many people have found their enterprise co-founders at university – look for course peers or friends who you admire, and who you work well with as well as testing out your ideas.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I want to continue growing Chatterbox, to help and support as many people as I can across the world. It’s great to be part of the developing tech space and I hope to remain there as an inspirational leader. I’d also love to help change our political system, which is clearly cracking under the weight of technological and social changes, and needs an upgrade to version 2.0! I’d like to bring my learning from working in the tech space into building a better form of governance for the 21st century.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I would go back and live in Fiji. It was such a wonderful time after university, working there as a teacher and project manager, it was very peaceful. I think I learnt that life could be about more than just the echo chamber of consumerism and stress that sometimes big cities like London can be, but to appreciate things like family, friends and food. The three big F’s!

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