This article was written by Solene Van Der Wielen, who attended the Techfugees Global Summit.
At midday on the 25th of October, the first Techfugees Global Summit kicked off in Paris. For two days, more than 500 participants from 37 different countries took over the main hall of the newly-constructed Station F, the world’s largest startup hub.
The event brought together social entrepreneurs, NGOs, researchers, journalists, impact investors, and policymakers to discuss how tech solutions could help empower displaced populations. Of the diverse crowd, one attendee in five was a refugee.
Talks, pitches, and workshops happened simultaneously in three dedicated spaces and translation headsets were on hand to overcome language barriers. Four or five languages could be heard at any given time as connections and collaborations were concocted over coffee breaks.
With talks ranging from the issue of infrastructure at a refugee camp in Greece to mobile coverage in Tanzania, the content of the panels reflected the global and complex nature of displacement.
The latest tech trends were represented as Niall Dennehy of AID:Tech and Hila Cohen from the World food Program discussed their implementation of Blockchain on the ground and Gabo Arora of LightShed explored the power of VR to create empathy.
A human-centered design workshop by MIT’s Solve emphasized the importance of collective action by crowdsourcing suggestions for refugee-related challenges. The workshop on employment of refugees gathered innovators having created online platform for recruitment of refugees in 7 different countries discussing what works and what does not.
In the summit’s final panel, George Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece, and John Ralston Saul, co-founder of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, spoke of the importance of changing policies to promote inclusion, allowing that, while technology is necessary, it isn’t a sufficient solution.
42 refugee tech startups pitched over the course of the two days. From All Industries’ chatbot to help refugees learn Italian to TruckSHOP’s e-voucher system for dignified clothing distribution, the audience was introduced to some of the most innovative startups working with and for refugees.
Set up in London in 2015, Techfugees has grown into a community of 20,000 members in 25 chapters spread out across the globe. Two years later, this event marked the launch of a new phase of development for the group as it focuses on providing a global platform to coordinate refugee tech initiatives.
As Mathieu Lefevre of Moreincommon stated in the final moments of the event, the issue of refugees is here to stay. Techfugees will continue to showcase the very best tech responses to address all stages of a refugee’s journey, from departure through to arrival and inclusion, whilst looking to the future to help coordinate the development of tomorrow’s solutions.