The Five-euro Challenge:
Giving your life a meaning and building the impossible
Identity: Sharine F. Hernández, from Venezuela
Host Country since 2017: Portugal
Life motto: “You cannot defeat those who will never surrender”
This story has been developed within the project “Women TCNs Integration in Local Communities through Employability and Entrepreneurship Local Oriented Strategies.”
Behind the screen you feel there is a vibrant, strong, idealististic, but also pragmatic woman eager to express herself and determined to make the world a better place.
Sharine F. Hernández was born in Venezuela in a bicultural family. Her father was Colombian and she has got a dual citizenhip. She has a Bachelors’ Degree in Law and International Affairs and she has been practicing law for twenty years. During the period she lived in her country of origin, she experienced different jobs as Legal Consultant & International Business Lawyer. Besides, she also embraced other professions, such as university lecturer at a Law Faculty and at a Social Communication Faculty in Venezuela and she even started her own company related with imports. Very early in her career she faced the problem of political repression and she was able to understand that you pay “a price” when you are not a conformist and have strong views. Venezuela has got serious political and economic unsolved problems and the diaspora was inevitable for her and for many other fellow citizens.
She has been living in Portugal for five years and she is a legal migrant. She has now her own business developing legal techsolutions to automated contracts and predictive models.
But let us travel back at the very start of her journey.
On arriving to a different country to escape socioeconomic and political turmoil, people face overwhelming problems: lack of money and documentation, culture shock, lack of diploma recognition, inability to speak the host language, among other barriers. That was the case of Sharine. Though she understood that the best thing to do was to leave behind her home country, she underwent a difficult period on her arrival to Portugal. She was scarce of money; she could not speak and write Portuguese properly and her diploma in Law and International Affairs and her high professional skills were apparently useless.
If you were forced to flee, your economic condition is vulnerable. It is not feasible to expect that you can afford the costly process of a diploma recognition. Sharine believes host countries should consider offering migrants conditions to allow them to work in their fields of expertise. She suggests the relevance of creating co-working spaces that could be freely used. She also suggests the importance to create a fund to help migrants pay for the diploma recognition process.
If you were forced to flee, you start from scratch your journey towards self-expression through language. Sharine reports the overwhelming experience of loosing verbal language proficiency. Mother tongue is identity, self-assurance, knowledge and sensitivity. Sharine recalls how frustrating it was not to be able to write and to speak properly. You suddenly feel that you are illiterate, you lose your identity when you lack the language skills that allow you to communicate your world view.
If you were forced to flee in search of freedom, peace and prosperity, you will probably experience prejudice. Negative cultural stereotypes are inevitable. Sharine felt prejudice, not because she is a woman, but because she is migrant. The job market will not offer equal opportunities to nationals and TCNs. You tend to be regarded as a threat and will be expected to accept short-term, low-skilled and low-paid jobs, local people do not want to do. You will need much more energy to allow yourself to dream.
As expected, Sharine’s integration in the Portuguese labour market was a long and resilient journey. Apart from the obstacles above described, bureaucracy was a huge barrier to overcome. Bilateral relations between Venezuela and Portugal also made it difficult to accomplish recognition procedures concerning her academic degree. She reports that she is still waiting for a document to start her process of diploma recognition.
However, she quickly understood that it was vital to find her own space in the market and to develop the soft skills to accomplish her business ideas. And so, she did:
Figure 1 – Pitch at ANJE PORTO – Nov 2017. Final event with the Shark Tank Portugal, showing her startup “Tradeasy.io – to find new markets and parthners using A.I.- ” (MPV).
Sharine overcame obstacles related to the labour market doing intensive research on the internet, her great ally. She dedicated hours to studying free publications from universities, MOOCs, seminars and workshops.
Three months after arriving in Portugal, she took part of the program Compete, Portugal 2020, at ANJE (Portuguese Association for Young Entrepreneurs). In 2017, she won a scholarship for attending an Intensive (230 hours) Coaching Program on how to create a startup. This was the very beginning of her professional metamorphosis. She had the chance to know the entrepreneurial Portuguese ecosystem, taking part in an innovating networking. By the time, ANJE promoted opportunities to interact with members of international chambers of commerce and discuss business opportunities. There was a collaboration with the University of Porto and the University of Minho. She has a very positive view of this experience, regarding it has the most modern educational system she has seen, so far, in Portugal. The course provided physical spaces, food, updated mentors, networking, a digital platform and investors.
She pro-actively went on investing in her educational development, searching for every opportunity to deepen her business vision. She attended several face-to-face workshops about international branding strategies, team building and business development, at the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in Lisbon, and at AICEP (Portuguese Agency for Trade and Investment) which allowed her to develop networking possibilities.
In 2018, she was shortlisted for the Innovating Justice Challenge promoted by the Netherlands. Her application with CuriaLex.com (was among the best international legaltech startups).
Her dynamic and innovative profile led CNAIM (National Immigrant Support Centre) to invite her to lead a workshop about at the Support Office for the Migrant Entrepreneur on How to create a Startup.
As for host language learning, she had to wait 8 months to attend Portuguese Language Courses (Levels A1 and A2) at the IEFP Alverca (Institute for Employment and Vocational Training). Four years later, IEFT Aveiro contacted her to inform that there is a vacancy to attend levels B1 and B2. She believes host language skills are extremely important to a successful integration, so it would be crucial to accelerate and innovate the processes of learning the host language.
Figure 2 – Letter from HiiL – The Hague, Netherlands. Jun 2018. Innovating Justice Challenges to pymes solutions. Event of shortlist to preselect 100 best legaltech startup in the world. “CuriaLex.com – to help drawing contrats using M.L & A.I.- ” (MPV).
Despite having encountered a labyrinth of obstacles, Sharine successfully managed her career and she is now a CEO of two technology startups: Curialex.com and Tradeasy.io, both startups in MVP (Minimum Viable Product) launch phase. The first one is related to Digital International Business and the other one concerns Artificial Intelligence for International Commerce an Legal Affairs. Currently, she is focused on this latter project of applying artificial intelligence and innovation to law and internationalization. She has competed in national and international challenges and is invited to present her legal solution in The Hague.
Sharine is chasing tests and feedback with potential users. Right now, her life is focused on developing digital products that can meet customers’ needs. Constant improvement of the product is her focus. This requires combining work and study on a daily basis, as well as constant and disciplined development of new digital skills.
As for the future, she intends to develop protocols with universities and research centres to design courses in Augmented Reality. She is finishing a Virtual and Augmented Reality course at AICEP and she has found that predictive machine learning models are used for augmented training. This connects her field of work with training. As for Law, she wants to set partnerships with colleges and law firms to test her tools.
She plans to stay in Portugal and to proceed her postgraduate studies in Business Creation and Development at the Instituto Superior e de Contabilidade in Porto. Due to the course content, she believes she can formalize her knowledge in digital business and train other dreamers that want to upskill and reskill themselves.
A deep wish from her heart: to come back to the University to teach.
Sharine states everyone will agree that living abroad forces one to develop a clear sense of the self. Migration is a change of identity; it implies a deep and open-minded compromise with a new culture. You must cultivate the ability to fight honorably. You are competing against everyone; opportunities are scarce, and you must create your own space. She believes the challenge of a migrant is to engage in conquering his/her own space, building it with respect, honesty and care.
No doubt the name Sharine stands for a strong and a successful woman who genuinely believes that Law is much more than a way to make a living. She clealy regards Law as a way of life: she has the desire to help, to solve problems and to give guidance and advice to those who need it.
As Portuguese, we are lucky to have her in our country.