Techfugees Belgium emerged from civil society initiatives to help asylum-seekers and refugees in Belgium in autumn 2015, when there was a spike in the number of arrivals. We set out to mobilise civil society and social entrepreneurs to find solutions to increase the probability of successful integration. The main question was: how can we turn the refugees’ arrival into opportunities together?

 

The Process

During an initial brainstorming phase (November 2015 to January 2016), the CitizenLab co-creation platform was used to “citizensource” over 30 proposals.  Refugees, citizens, NGOs and public authorities were invited to share their ideas, comment on proposals and set priorities by up- and down-voting.

We developed criteria for selecting projects (understanding users and their needs, design and execution, business model and social impact), and formed a jury that included refugees, venture philanthropy, journalism, social innovators and the government agency responsible for reception centres.

We organised a ‘Hack With Refugees Hackathon in Brussels, where over 60 participants from the entrepreneurial, tech, civic and social communities worked in five teams, developing solutions to meet refugee needs in areas such as social housing, employment, skills development and communication.  Transforma bxl provided their co-working space, with coaching and facilitation provided by OksigenLab.

At the end of the weekend, a jury selected the top three ideas. The winning project Pop-Up Factory was offered additional coaching by the accelerators.

 

Launch Event

We launched our Techfugees Belgium chapter at the Digital Festival in Brussels on 21st June 2016, as part of a panel session on the role of digital technologies in the lives of refugees. Nastasia Rykaczewski, co-leader of Techfugees Belgium gave a short presentation on the global Techfugees network and the Belgian chapter. The panel discussion afterwards addressed questions such as: how are refugees travelling to and arriving in Europe utilizing digital technologies, and what types of services are offered to them? How are the tech and social entrepreneurship community responding to the needs of refugees? How can these efforts be coordinated?

The positive response and support from different actors from the public policy, civic or tech sector just after the event, was really encouraging and we are getting ready for the next steps.

 

What next?

One of the next initiatives we are looking forward to, is the female digital starters weekend Move it forward on the 15th and 16th of October 2016, initiated by the Digital Leadership Institute.

We are at the early stages and looking for creative minds, volunteer engineers, entrepreneurs or NGOs for collaboration.

 

Get in touch with us:

Catherine McSweeney – csmcsweeney@gmail.com

Nastasia Rykaczewski – n.rykaczewski@gmail.com