We caught up with our CEO, Joséphine Goube, to find out what Techfugees has been up to over the past two weeks, in her own words.
Another two weeks brings another busy schedule, catching up with people all over the globe as they put their energies to good use finding tech-based ways to help refugees.
To most, there’s not a great deal in common between Jordan and Norway, but scratch beneath the surface and you’ll see a united commitment to creating a more connected, inclusive world.
Jordan in general, and particularly the capital of Amman, is often lauded as one of the most progressive and humane voices in a very troubled region. This hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the country recently hosted a hugely successful event within MIT’s Innovate for Refugees initiative.
Bridges over troubled waters
I met with tech entrepreneurs from the competition, five of whom had just been awarded a share of US$20,000, with more funding on the horizon in the wake of some big success stories.
Among these pioneers is NaTakallam, a service connecting Arabic teachers with those who want to learn the language via Skype. This approach of putting existing technologies to creative use is characteristic of refugee ingenuity. After all, why reinvent the wheel?
The startup has been on a journey recently. Originally, it was thought that their market would be found among individual learners, leading to doing deals with education centres. In practice, however, there turned out to be a huge corporate market for learning Arabic, leading to a surge in growth.
It’s gratifying to see the Jordanian leadership building momentum towards turning the ‘burden’ of refugees into an innovative economic positive.
At a time when it looked like the country’s hand was going to be forced into asking for more aid, President Hani Al-Mulki decided to focus on a trailblazing tech economy, with the skills and experience of refugees playing a central role. This approach is now reaping huge benefits.
Compare this to other regional actors, who talk a good game about innovation and integration, but whose approach to migrant labour leaves much to be desired. It’s easy to see how the success of Jordan should serve as a beacon to other Middle Eastern powers.
Touching base with Nordic ingenuity
From there, it was on to Oslo, where I had a great time renewing ties with the Schibsted media group, one of our strategic partners who have supported techfugees from the start, helping run hackathons around the world, as well as bigger events like our Global Techfugees Summit at Station F. We’re both keen to do more great work in the near future, so stay tuned for that.
I also met with Katapult, an accelerator for high-impact tech startups. They’re currently engaged in the final selection of 12 teams who use exponential tech to make and measure social impact, and we spoke in detail about how we might achieve the same thing by focusing closely on refugee tech startups.
The bulk of my time in Oslo, however, was spent at the Elle Tech seminar, speaking to and hearing from a host of inspiring women in technology. I was very thankful for the opportunity to spotlight two flagship Techfugees affiliates in Norway, Komm In and TikkTalk.
Komm In allows Norwegian families to invite refugees over for dinner, and vice versa, matching and connecting participants via algorithm, with everything kept anonymous until both parties have confirmed they’re happy. Following a great start, the service is now looking to scale to other activities, from yoga to the school run.
Meanwhile, TikkTalk provides real-time translation services from Norwegian to a host of languages spoken by refugees. This has proven an enormous help in all sorts of situations like shopping, social work, and everyday interaction. Natives who download and use the app are even incentivised with vouchers and other rewards. The app has just finished a second round of funding aimed at branching out to other locations in Europe.
Join me at SXSW 2018
It’s a continuing inspiration to see the ecosystem of refugee tech maturing so fast, in such disparate locations around the world. If handled properly, rising refugee populations can realise their commercial and social potential, bringing huge benefits to their host countries.
All of this makes me look forward to next month’s South by Southwest 2018, where I’ll be opening the Interactive Festival with a keynote, reporting on the success of our global community and connecting with even more incredible people like Melinda Gates and Michael Dell.
This post was written by the team at Sookio.