Speaking for Ourselves

Rafael's story: A high profile migrant

Rafael's story: A high profile migrant

Anna Marsden

 Migrant Voice - Rafael's story: A high profile migrant

Rafael dos Santos cuts a striking figure with his sharp haircut and colourful attire.

And it’s not long before you realise that his vibrant appearance is matched by a warm and spirited personality.

Rafael, who arrived in the UK from Brazil 17 years ago, has recently launched a new business – the High Profile Club – and is loving his work.

“The idea came during my MBA,” Rafael said. “I realised how much I love working with media and, together with a Colombian entrepreneur, I founded an MPR (Market Public Relations) agency, but we had only very few clients. My business partner left and I decided to turn the agency into the High Profile Club.”

The idea is simple: instead of doing marketing and campaigning for businesspeople and entrepreneurs, Rafael introduces them to journalists for a small monthly fee. He also offers training, workshops and networking opportunities.

“I launched the club at the House of Commons in March 2018 and since then we have already had 48 paying clients, 70 per cent of them being migrants, and 30 per cent British,” he said.

Just a few months into his new role, Rafael is planning a book – “50 High Profile Entrepreneurs and their Success Stories” – to tell the stories of some of his clients. It’s due to be published in January 2019.

His own story should probably be in there too. Arriving in the UK with very little – and having left a good job at Microsoft behind – Rafael spent many years of hard graft building up businesses, developing his skills, writing a book and creating a niche for himself in London’s heady business environment.

In 2016, he was named on the prestigious Sunday Times list, "Top 100 Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs in the UK".

But life in London was tough at the beginning. He spoke no English and had no job or money. He had left Brazil partly because he did not feel accepted as a gay man, but he spent his first months in the UK isolated and lonely.

“The first three months were the worst,” he said. “I was not working, felt isolated, and there were many nights of tears, when I was wondering what I was doing here.”

The language barrier was especially hard to cope with.

“I was clinging to my pocket dictionary at all times. The lack of language knowledge causes isolation and loneliness; it makes you feel as a child in an adult body, and it affects your self-esteem and confidence.”

He met some Brazilians who became his first friends, and soon his English improved enough to find a job and build friendships with Brits.

In 2003, he started a business with a friend, managing and renting rooms in flat shares. A second job as a perfume salesman helped to bring in enough money to pay the bills until the business got going.

Pretty soon, Rafael realised he wanted to use his own experience to help other migrants understand the emotional challenges of moving and living abroad.

“There are a lot of things that happen when you migrate, and you don’t understand why,” Rafael said. “I interviewed 200 people, living in different countries and with different backgrounds, to really understand what happens.”

The result was a book – “Moving Abroad, One Step At A Time” – where he collected their experiences and took a deep dive into the subject of migration, analysing the stages every migrant goes through, from the initial decision to the move itself and the process of adjusting and “upgrading” one’s life.

He later started two other businesses – a social network connecting people planning to move or migrate and a co-working space for migrant entrepreneurs – before enrolling on an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) at the Henley Business School, University of Reading.

That’s what led, in a roundabout way, to the High Profile Club, Rafael’s latest endeavour. He’s come a long way since he arrived in London and now he’s thrilled to have the chance to help others, both migrants and Brits, to find similar success.

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