Refugee Man of the Year 2016. A successful entrepreneur who has numerous public positions of trust and whose heart is in Joensuu. He is Ali Giray, the man Suomen Yrittäjät (the Federation of Finnish Enterprises) chose to lead the national network of immigrant entrepreneurs in spring 2019.

Ali Giray, born in Turkey, was an 11-year old Kurd when he came to Finland via family reunification in the early 1990s. The young man quickly learned the language and customs. He helped his father, who worked as an entrepreneur in the restaurant business, whenever they needed an interpreter to sort out business matters with the authorities. He became familiar with the functionalities, responsibilities and obligations of Finnish society.

Giray’s father was a pizza entrepreneur, and the son followed in his father’s footsteps. Before coming to Joensuu and starting his own pizzeria, he had studied international business economics in Kouvola and completed his military service. Education gave him completely new kinds of abilities and possibilities to make progress in life. Giray’s father also emphasised the importance of education – and all six children of the Giray family are forever grateful for it.

Need made him an entrepreneur

Giray, a Bachelor of Business Administration, could well have focused on growing his restaurant business, but the grapevine showed its might.

– It started from helping others out a little, bothering to care, which ended up having great importance in people’s lives, Giray says, remembering his reasons behind starting Arife Oy, the interpreter centre of Joensuu that offers interpreter services.

Immigrants asked him for help in various situations: filling in documents and forms, visiting authorities, appointments with doctors. Giray quickly noticed that without knowing the language and culture, many immigrants were up a creek without a paddle. Word about the skilled man spread among the immigrant community.

Championing a shared cause

Ali Giray says that Joensuu was good for him and his family when they arrived, and today, Joensuu is an even better home.

– I am proud that I can say that I am from Joensuu. This is one of the best places for a human to live. When I first came here, I immediately met people who welcomed me with their attitude. I have a strong experience of belonging in Finnish society where I can also share my own views.

And Giray indeed has many views. He has worked with all his strength to help as many immigrants as possible to take root in Finnish society.

– Finland is growing older, and many fields need more workers. It is important to help incomers to get an education, develop themselves and start work. Success requires increased cultural know-how.

Nagging paid off

Ali Giray has many positions of trust: he is a member of the Regional Council of North Karelia and the chairman of the advisory committee for union matters. He is a member of the Boards of Joensuun Yrittäjät ry and Pohjois-Karjalan Yrittäjät ry (the entrepreneurs of Joensuu and North Karelia) and now also the chairman of the national network for immigrant entrepreneurs.

I am proud that I can say that I am from Joensuu

– I kept nagging about the situation of immigrant entrepreneurs. Finnish society has a huge amount of information and opportunities regarding entrepreneurship, but that information does not reach immigrants. When they have no means of looking up information, they fail to get any help. I mean normal, everyday things related to entrepreneurship such as taxation, accounting and employee rights. Many immigrants have no concept of the operation models of a democracy.

Making the world a better place

Kim Väisänen, a non-fiction writer and startup investor, says in his book Väärää yrittämistä (The wrong kind of entrepreneurship) that “good entrepreneurs try to make the world a better place one way or another“. This motive for entrepreneurship fits the interpreter centre established by Ali Giray perfectly. It also fits Giray’s newer business, Youpret. Youpret was also born from the need to offer quickly accessible, high quality and cost efficient interpreting for emergency situations. Giray and his partners participated in the “Leijonan luola” television show with their application that utilises artificial intelligence. On the show, a group of investors evaluate business ideas with investment in mind. Investor Kim Väisänen also had faith in the Youpret business idea and invested 50,000 euros in the company.

Text: Sirkka-Liisa Aaltonen/Viestintä-Ässä