Originally published March 14, 2016
Six months ago, Ezriel Taieb had a realization. Being unemployed, he realized that his only ‘happy times’ were limited to the hours when his friends were able to meet up after work. But in a country with over 5 million people currently unemployed (France), there was no need for him to be lonely. And so he started Chomunity, a community of enterprising unemployed people.
Fun fact: Chomunity is a contraction of the word “chômage” (unemployment in French) and unity (which stands by itself). The goal is to come together, share skills, and hopefully, create something new together.
In this Changers Around the World interview, we caught up with Ezriel as he talks about making the shift from unemployed to entrepreneur and shares his advice for those feeling down and out during unemployment.
Tell us about Chomunity, where did the idea come from and how did it all get started?
Last year, after several years abroad, I returned to France determined to find a job. Unfortunately, the odds were stacked against me, with the country experiencing a record level of unemployment. After few months of job hunting with little to no results, I began to struggle with depression, lack of self-confidence and a sense of isolation.
Reflecting on my situation, I realized that my only ‘happy times’ were limited to the hours when my friends were able to meet up with me after work. It was a pleasure to share my time with someone else, whether it was just meeting for a coffee, enjoying an exhibit or collaborating on a project.
Then it hit me- why should I be waiting around for my employed friends to be available when there were over 5 million unemployed in France in the same situation and with the same schedule as me?
That’s why I started Chomunity, to bring meaning to unemployment and to show people that their job status does not define their value. Chomunity is a community of enterprising unemployed people. Chomunity is the contraction of the word “chômage” (unemployment in French) and unity (which stands by itself).
The goal is to change the way people see unemployment and unemployed people. We aim to make people switch their mindset on the dynamism, skills and value of unemployed people. I want to redefine unemployment and change it into a period of time where you can create, build something and be proud. Not be down and depressed.
In a sense, you yourself have made the shift from unemployed to entrepreneur. How has that been? Any surprises or major highs and lows?
I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and even dedicated my studies to the field. However it took me awhile to find my path, experiencing a few failed attempts, such as my venture in Vietnam exporting scarves.
While unemployed, you reach a tipping point where you feel the need to be useful. I believe you can either spend your time waiting for a response from a prospective employer or use your talents to create something. I decided to move forward and share my skills to help others.
It’s not a major surprise that being an entrepreneur is a lot like being unemployed. You are on a continuous emotional roller coaster, with your life made of continuous ups and downs. Your hopes can rocket sky-high when applying for competitions or having potential prospects and succeeding feels fantastic. But, when things do not go as expected or you get rejected, it is difficult to not to experience low self-esteem.
You often question the direction you are taking and are always ready to change course.
I realized that the most important thing in both entrepreneurship and unemployment is not isolate yourself. It always feels better to have someone working or consulting. An outside perspective helps balance the emotional roller coaster by being more rational and offering new ideas.
In creating this community, I want to show that everything is possible as long as you put your mind and heart into it. I am passionate about what I do and I want to share my vision with the world.
So what’s it like to be part of a something like “Chomunity”?
Becoming a Chomyz (a Chomunity member) reminds you that you are not alone as an unemployed person that there are others like you. Joining Chomunity gets you outside of that unemployment bubble where no one can reach you. Popping that bubble allows you to enjoy the big bath of opportunities filled with creativity, sharing, and collaboration with other unemployed people.
Chomunity wants to empower people to view their unemployment period in a different way, while valorizing their skills and abilities. In being a member you become part of an enterprising community whose members bring value to one another by sharing their time, knowledge, passion, and network.
We keep things moving by requiring new Chomyz to organize an event for the community when registering. It can be anything, from a sporting event to a professional workshop. Our main goal is to generate value out of unemployment so when you are asked “What did you do while unemployed?” you can point to your accomplishments in Chomunity.
During one of our first events we had an entrepreneur looking to create clothes made out of bamboo partnering up with an ex English teacher and ex marketing director to help him develop his project.
When you feel better about being unemployed you are definitely stronger to tackle unemployment by getting creative and taking risks.
What kind of people does Chomunity attract - have you seen any trends in terms of an age-group or industry?
The Chomyz are 35 to 45 years old, often with a background in communication or marketing. However, our goal is to bring different generations and backgrounds closer together to foster creativity and openness. We aim to develop links between unemployed people, no matter their level of training or past experiences. Our last event gathered people from across sectors, with participants specializing in HR, marketing, event managing, and radio.
What has your impact been so far?
We are still exploring how to best create a long lasting impact. The organization is only 6 months old, but we have already welcomed over 200 members, many of whom have accredited the community for boosting their self-esteem and giving them confidence to tackle their unemployment.
Our long term ambition is to transform how society views unemployed people. We want unemployment to become a meaningful period of time, turning it into a time of achievement and creation.
What is next for Chomunity? Are you looking for a job or do you plan to 'take it big'?
Next step for Chomunity is to attract even more Chomzys! We really want to turn Chomunity into something big, something essential for everyone who endures unemployment. Our first target is to spread out in France to go from region wide to nation wide. We hope we can eventually expand across the EU, taking the fear out of and put the productivity into unemployment.
Any words of advice for people who are currently unemployed and feeling a bit 'down and out'?
JOIN US! Chomunity is here to help you through unemployment. The best advice I can give is don’t stay alone, go out, dare to talk about your current feelings and ask people for guidance. Don’t wait for people to come to you, rather empower yourself to make it happen.
Set some personal objectives for yourself after making a precise list of what you want to do - what gives you a sense of excitement – and what you do not want to do. It will allow you to better understand yourself and to focus on what’s important.
If you meet someone who you would like to work with or who you find inspiring, try to get a one-on-one. Approaching people is easy. Know that people are always keen on talking about what makes them proud: Their job, their kids, their favorite sport, their achievements…find your 'in' and don’t hesitate to ask them for a meeting!
The more people you meet, the bigger your community grows and the more opportunities you will have. Become a Chomyz and help us change the way people see unemployment and unemployed people.
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