Data for Development workshop focuses on health, agriculture and refugees

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By Michele Tizzoni

Find out what happened at the one-day workshop Data for Development in Milan, the second of three events looking at how data science can support organisations that work to make the world a better place.

The one-day workshop Data for Development was the second of a series of three events looking at how data science can support organisations that work to make the world a better place.

Held at the Cariplo Factory in Milan, about 60 people came along – about 75% were representatives of NGOs working in the international development sector, plus we had lots of people from academia, companies like Vodafone and the IT sector.

What was the thinking behind the workshop?

The workshops were organised by me, Daniela Paolotti and Ciro Cattuto. We are research scientists and we work at ISI Foundation, where Ciro is the scientific director of the Institute. Three Italian foundations are supporting the project: Fondazione Cariplo, Fondazione CRT and Compagnia di San Paolo.

Our research is highly interdisciplinary and we have a core expertise in data science. We work on network theory, computational epidemiology, machine learning. With these events, we want to identify issues that are relevant for non-profit organisations and that can be tackled using the power of data science.

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Who was speaking?

We had four great speakers:

  • Josephine Goube, Techfugees
  • Giulio Quaggiotto, Nesta UK
  • Erin Akred, DataKind
  • Natalia Adler, UNICEF

You can also download the slides of their presentations and take a look at the Storify of the event to see their highlights!

What did people take away from the event?

After the talks, we organised three working groups on three different topics: Health, Agriculture, Refugees.

The goal of the working groups was to come up with ideas about data-driven projects that could impact the work of the organisations that were present. We ended up with some good ideas and some case studies that will be further discussed in the next weeks.

When’s the next event?

There will be a third workshop in Torino on 15 December 2016 (please note this is a change from the original date of 16 December). And we will keep in touch with the participants through a mailing list, to have more face-to-face meetings and design the pilot studies we initially defined during the event.

How can people contact you?

Please visit the website

Register for more info here

ARctic Challenge hackathon brings together apps and augmented reality

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By Santosh Hejmadi

“There is such a buzz amidst the silence of brilliant minds all working together for a common goal.” Santosh Hejmadi from TF Sweden explains what happened at the ARctic Challenge, the first Techfugees hackathon to take place in Sweden.

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Who took part in the ARctic Challenge?

We had 50 participants including people from tech companies, along with immigrants and students from various parts of the world studying at the nearby Luleå Technical University (LTU). They came from Skellefteå city, Umeå city as well as Lövånger, Jörn, Skelleftehamn – this is where most of the refugees live.

It all took place over the weekend of 19 November 2016 at The Great Northern, Skellefteå’s new innovation arena, and was run by Skelleftea Digital Alliance and the Smart Sense Region Project in collaboration with the municipality of Skellefteå, Smart Growth, Science City Skellefteå, Luleå University of Technology, and Techfugees.

What happened on the day?

One of the tasks for the participants was to suggest in augmented reality apps that can help newcomers and refugees integrate into society.

The participants developed some amazing apps which provided smart solutions for residents and immigrants alike. They covered an impressive mix of topics:

  • immigrant integration
  • natural resources
  • renewables
  • visitors/tourism
  • disabilities, particularly focusing on blindness
  • language training and learning

We started off with eight teams, including two teams whose members were refugees themselves. However, one of these teams could not come on day two so the final count was seven.

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Who were the winners?

Whilst all of the apps were interesting, one finalist and one runner-up were selected by a jury of four.

First prize went to Skellefteåll who developed an interactive game for children, tourists and immigrants to get to know Skelleftea. You take a picture of a building or an object in town, and the app recognizes the object and tells you what it is. You also get points by collecting the items.

On the team: Olga Rybnytska, Felipe Leon, Victor Araujo, Atefeh Maleki, and Chandara Chea.

The runners-up were Team AD-HOC with their app Sortly, which helps with recycling. You read a QR code on a bin with your mobile phone and see pictures and text in your chosen language explaining what to put in the bin. You can also read barcodes on packages and find out whether you can recycle it at home or if you have to take it to the recycling station.

On the team: James Zhou, Greger Burman, Christopher Lundberg, Mattias Svedjevik and Simon Larsson.

What did people say about the Arctic Challenge?

We got some lovely comments!

A participant from Brazil

It was really nice indeed. I liked everything. The organization was amazing. Thank you for everything.

Bengt Ivansson, Head of the Business Development Office, Skellefteå Kommun

I’m really happy and proud to see so many different nationalities creating magic for people entering and starting their new life here in Sweden. It fits well with the municipality’s priorities on digitalisation, entrepreneurship and integration.

Nazia Hussain – a visitor who helped at the Hackathon

There is such a buzz amidst the silence of brilliant minds all working together for a common goal here at The Great Northern.

You can also read write-ups of the event in the local press:

What’s happening next?

“Some of the proposals will be presented to the municipality of Skellefteå and the plan is that we will organize more similar hackathons”, said Emina Kovacevic. innovation manager at Skelleftea Science City.

How can people contact you?

Take a look at the ARctic Challenge website

Techfugees partnered with Startup Weekend Amman and UNICEF Jordan on refugee challenges

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Software developers, designers and entrepreneurs of all ages competed in a 52-hours Startup Weekend event in Amman, Jordan, to develop innovative business solutions. Techfugees worked with UNICEF Jordan & Oasis500 to create a refugee track to the event – for participants to pitch innovative ideas to help refugees

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Techfugees in partnership with the team of Startup Weekend Amman, launched a refugees track to the event which took place on 17th-19th November at ZINC, Zain’s incubator space. Supported by UNICEF Jordan and Oasis500, three teams came to pitch for the track. The winner of the refugee track, ProFugees, a crowd-funding platform for refugees’ stories, won three months of weekly coaching and mentoring from Oasis500’s Chief Coach.

The weekend event brought together young software developers, designers and entrepreneurs, aged between 12 to 30, all from the region – migrants and refugees included.

Eva Kaplan Techfugees Refugee Event

In line with Techfugees’ events, the track aimed at developing local innovative & tech solutions for refugees.The challenge was to provide refugee kids with a voice, as explained by UNICEF Jordan’s Innovation specialist, Eva Kaplan:

“Anywhere in the world, when you pick up a newspaper, you will see a story about refugees.  Most of those stories will be negative. In addition, all over the world, government officials are making decisions that impact the lives of refugees.  The voices of refugees are rarely heard in these conversations.  They do not have the opportunity to tell their own stories, and they do not have the ability to provide their perspective on the issues that impact their lives. How can we use technology to amplify and elevate the voices of refugee children?  How can we make sure that those stories and perspectives are heard?”

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The winning team, Profugees, led by Hassan Al-Nouri, presented a prototype of a crowd-funding platform for young refugees. Here is how it works: a young refugee can pitch their story to a content creator (video producer, writer, journalists) and these content producers will create a whole crowd-funding campaign online around the story – this will generate revenue for the refugee and for the content producer. This enables for stories of young refugees and dreams to be more visible and potentially financially supported.

Two other teams pitched projects beyond the initial topic of young refugees’ voices, and found creative ways to provide innovative shelter solutions and education opportunities to refugees.

Techfugees Amman REfugees smart tent

Refugee Smart Tent (R.S.T.) wants to make camp tents that are self-sustained with solar powered energy, insulated against flood and equipped with a smart beacon, that can alert the administrator of the camp about emergency issues.

Study First, is an app that provides online homework content, controlled by local teachers, in arabic – and at the same time shuts down all social media applications on the device – so the student cannot be distracted while studying.

Want to know more about Techfugees’ next event and how to get involved? Check our calendar of events – or simply your city’s Techfugees local chapter.

Donate to Techfugees & win tickets to TechCrunchDisrupt Hackathon

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Techfugees is giving away 10 tickets to the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon 2016 (3-4 December) to its members and we want you to be part of it! For a chance to get one, make a minimum donation of £25 to our crowdfunding campaign with a TC Disrupt reference by midnight on November 29, 2017. We will be picking the 10 winners at random and notifying them via email.

Plus,

Donate £100… enter a draw to win 1 of 12 TechCrunch Disrupt London 2016 Conference – tickets worth £1200 each.

Donate £500… enter a draw to win 2 x VIP TechCrunch Disrupt Conference Dinner tickets on Monday 5 December, worth £2,000 each!

…AND be on our thank you wall of donors publicly available on our website and receive exclusive free tickets to all Techfugees events!

Donate to Techfugees to help us enable and coordinate the tech community’s response to improving the lives of refugees.
https://uk.gofundme.com/donate2techfugees

Thank you so much for your support and good luck!

#HacktheCamp Hackathon in Athens – December 2-4, 2016

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Impact Hub Athens, the Onassis Cultural Center and the U.S. Embassy in Athens are joining forces for Hack the Camp, a two-part hackathon on refugee and integration challenges. Hackathon solutions and outcomes will focus primarily on the refugee and migrant populations currently in Greece, and aid organizations offering services to refugees. The event is supported by Techfugees Athens.

Programmers, designers, social entrepreneurs, humanitarian workers, educators, artists and other interested professionals are all invited to work together and find sustainable and scalable solutions for and with refugees and migrants in Greece. Migrant and refugee populations are also invited to participate in the process, voice their concerns, and share their knowledge and expertise.

Hack the Camp will be comprised of two events: #MeetTheHackers event on 21-22 October 2016 at Diplareios School, where experts will announce challenges and methodology while participants will form teams and start brainstorming, and the main #HackTheCamp event on 2-4 December 2016 at Impact Hub Athens, where the selected participants will prototype their idea and develop it into a sustainable solution, with the help of mentors.

Here are some of the challenges that #HackTheCamp will attempt to address:

  • How can we improve living conditions for refugees?
  • How can they access reliable information on their legal status?
  • What kind of opportunities are available or can be created for refugees?
  • How can we tap on the many skills that moving populations bring with them?
  • How can populations in transit and local populations come closer and develop an intercultural dialogue?

During the final day of Hack the Camp, the teams will present their projects and a Judging Panel of experts will decide on the top three teams/hacks. The winners will receive monetary awards, as well as free incubation services at Impact Hub. The teams and hack projects will be judged based on the following criteria: impact, user experience and presentation, sustainability, innovation, and reusability.

For additional information on #HackTheCamp please visit #HacktheCamp Facebook Page or contact us at athens.hosts@impacthub.net, or (+30) 210 3210146.

To attend – please visit #HackTheCamp Eventbrite page

Techfugees launches funding campaign and new Portugal chapter at Web Summit

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PRESS RELEASE:

TECHFUGEES LAUNCHES CROWD-FUNDING CAMPAIGN
AT WEB SUMMIT

– New Portugal chapter headed by Inēs Silva –

8 November, 2016, Lisbon: Techfugees, the social enterprise coordinating the tech industry’s response to the refugee crisis, is excited to announce the launch of its crowd-funding campaign and the opening of the Techfugees Portugal chapter at a special evening event Web Summit 2016.

Techfugees Portugal, headed up by Inēs Silva from Global Shapers, Lisbon, will be part of an international network made of tech engineers, designers, social entrepreneurs, and NGOs all dedicated to working together, sharing learnings, to come up with tech solutions to help refugees from their first journey to their arrival and societal integration.

The former Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou, who addressed an evening event to launch the fund-raising campaign, said: “I whole-heartedly support the aims of Techfugees. It’s time for the technology world to engage with this issue, we need more activism like this. Refugees are are change agents a lot of them have changed their host communities for the better.”

Techfugees first phase of development was mainly focused on advocacy and education of the world of tech to the real needs of refugees. As the second phase now begins, a crowd-funding campaign is being launched to enable Techfugees to deliver full-blown deployment of tech innovation in the field to refugees and partner NGOs.

Here: https://www.gofundme.com/donate2techfugees

The raised funds will be used to deploy tech solutions specifically in Northern France, Greece and in Jordan during the first half of 2017, with the help of existing Techfugees partners on the ground. The first projects will help bring connectivity and education opportunities to refugees in camps and urban areas.

Joséphine Goube, CEO of Techfugees, comments: “There is no better time to launch Techfugees official crowdfunding and phase 2 of our activities than at Web Summit. Similarly to the way Web Summit has grown from 400 attendees to 50,000 in only six years, Techfugees has, in only one year, successfully sparked the interest of the international tech community across 27 countries and mobilised more than 15,000 worldwide to join the cause of deploying technology solutions to the refugee situations. We are only just starting to disrupt the humanitarian response by supporting more than 100 innovative projects on the ground, and looking at phase 2 to deploy and scale more. We are taking the opportunity to be on stage this week, for the tech industry to hear that the refugee challenge is not going away and that it will need significant donations from the sector and tech people to get involved, because tech scales.”

Mike Butcher founder and chairman of Techfugees, and Editor-At-Large of tech news site TechCrunch, adds: “It has been a year since Techfugees launched with a Facebook Group and a meet-up in London, bringing together the tech community, refugees and NGOs. We have quickly grown to a global community of over 15,000 people, sharing information on challenges of refugees and reports on pockets of innovation addressing these challenges.”

“We have grown organically across 27 countries around the world by running events and hackathons tailored for advocacy around the refugee crisis. Our local communities of volunteers have helped run over 35 conferences and hackathons. Our events have brought together more than 2,000 innovators, including 350+ refugees, to co-create solutions. Without these community events and the hard work of our local volunteers, many of these ideas would have never seen the light and never been tested today. Techfugees has successfully galvanised a global community — but we still have a long way to go in scaling this impact. Goodwill gets us so far, but we now need money to scale that impact! Please donate to enable us to deploy solutions to the field,” Butcher said.

To donate to the Techfugees cause, please go here: https://www.gofundme.com/donate2techfugees

**** Ends ****

Notes to Editors:

‘Refugee technology’ refers to web platforms, mobile apps and hardware, which either assists refugees directly or aids NGOs working with refugees.

About Techfugees
Techfugees is a social enterprise coordinating the international tech community’s response to the needs of refugees.

Techfugees curates refugee projects and accelerates the deployment and development of technology for refugees, in camp, on the move or in host communities. Disrupting the traditional humanitarian response, Techfugees works mainly with the business and tech sector in partnership with big NGOs and government institutions, to make refugees free and independent individuals again.

Moved by the plight of refugees in Europe, and led by Mike Butcher, the Editor-at-large of TechCrunch.com, Techfugees is formed by teams of volunteers in 25+ local chapters around the world creating series of non-profit “Techfugees” conferences, hackathons, and working with a global network of collaborators.

TechFugees HQ is supported by the following sponsors and partners:
Schibsted & IHorizon

https://www.facebook.com/groups/Techfugees/

https://twitter.com/Techfugees

For further information, please contact:

Joséphine Goube, CEO, Techfugees (pictured)
Email: josephine@techfugees.com
Mobile: +44 7580 428278

Mike Butcher, Chairman, Techfugees (pictured)
Email: mike@techfugees.com
Mobile: +44 77202 91095

Joanna Ayre, PR lead
Email: press@techfugees.com

Event details and tickets link:
https://techfugees.com/news/techfugees-lisboa-web-summit-2016/

Donate to Techfugees & enable deployment

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Hi this is Mike,

Just over a year ago, sickened by the idea that refugees were dying in the 21st Century, when technology had done so much to improve our lives, I launched the Techfugees initiative. A year on Techfugees has achieved a lot with its community, but we could do so much more. SO many in the tech community love what Techfugees is doing. So to power this work forward, we’re now asking you to donate to Techfugees so that we can directly help refugeesand the NGOs that work with them

Techfugees has been embraced by the tech community and our first year stands as testament to that. We now have over 27 local chapters around the world. We’ve developed and engaged, a global community of over 15,000 people. We’ve organised 35 hackathons, conferences & partner events across the world. 

This was our first phase, focused on building advocacy. Our next is on deployment of scalable tech solutions. This is where you come in.

We need your donations  to enable Techfugees to deploy the solutions developed from our hackathons. Our first focus in this phase will be on Connectivity and Education.

Your support will help Techfugees assist the brave volunteers on the ground, empower refugees and aid innovation for NGOs & charities. We need money to scale these products.

As Forbes recently noted, governments globally are listening to what Techfugees has to say, with good reason. The situation on the ground has worsened on every front. There are more refugees than ever before, and one in every two refugees is under the age of 18. We are talking about an entire generation that could well be lost, thrown into a terrible future.

But there is hope.

I have met with innovators finding creative ways to help refugees around the world from Calais to Lesvos, from Lebanon (as in the picture above) to Uganda. We have seen how tech offers solutions to some of the many problems refugees face. We know tech is efficient, transparent and scalable – we just need funds to deploy more of these solutions.

Techfugees’ work could potentially help prevent a lost generation of youth.

You can help us scale these solutions and take them to the next step: I here ask for your kind donations to the cause to help scale tech solutions that are working on the ground today.

I hope you join us on this journey. This is just the beginning!

Thank you.

Mike Butcher,

Founder and Chairman, Techfugees


Techfugees is a social enterprise coordinating & curating the international tech community’s response to the needs of Refugees. Techfugees organises conferences, workshops, hackathons and meetups in around the world in an effort to generate tech solutions that can help refugees. We are now looking to deploy more and scale the impact of the tech solutions built by Techfugees community in partnership with local NGOs and relevant government bodies.

Refugee Education: 15 questions to consider

Posted on Posted in Education, News, Projects

Julia Citron, Techfugees Education advisor, set out to compile a database of refugee education initiatives to help innovators discover what’s already out there. Find out more about how she carried out the research and see her 15-question checklist for innovators in education looking to help refugees.

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Photo credit: Edlumino, refugee school led by UK headteacher Rory Fox

Jump to…

As a result of your research, you’ve put together 15 questions to help define refugee learner groups and a database of education initiatives. What led you to carry out the research?

Like so many people, I saw the news and wanted to help. Last, year I set up a blended learning programme for maths and science teachers who were stuck in the collapsed Spanish economy and wanted to come to the UK to start a better life. I wondered whether there might be scope to design digital learning programmes for refugee children and adults that would be flexible enough for them to access on the go and with very few resources. To find out more about the context, I visited a refugee camp in Calais.

What were your initial findings?

That the landscape for refugee learning was even more complex than I’d anticipated. Some children had good English, others had none, some families had means, others were deep in debt, some looking to settle in France, others were in transition, some children had smartphones, others didn’t – all factors which would affect what truly accessible and relevant education might look like for them.

The complexity of refugee’s contexts has been a challenge for innovators across the world tackling the crisis. In Calais, I saw several initiatives set up by passionate individuals and organisations which were having a strong impact on the users they reaching.

However, many more potential users weren’t able to truly access what they were offering due to invisible barriers – from unsafe streets in the camp stopping girls leaving the house to children busy sleeping through the days after spending long nights trying to get on lorries.

The more I researched refugee education initiatives, the more found this pattern – apps built at hackathons which weren’t being adopted, groups of children ineligible to access schooling programmes as their UNHCR papers were out of date. Unanticipated issues which were stopping groups of users from accessing the services and tools which on the surface seemed available to them.

What is your research based on?

Desk research and a visit to a refugee camp in Calais. The research was carried out in my spare time over 3-4 months.

Who could use your research and how?

  • Education innovators could use the 15 questions:
    • To identify which user groups they are targeting and ensure that they are consulting representatives of all the groups from the beginning of the design process
    • To consider which invisible barriers might prevent their users from accessing the services they offer (and mitigate them)
  • Donors could use the 15 questions to map the refugee education space and identify underfunded niches.
  • Education innovators could use the database to connect with people who are running or have run similar initiatives to join forces or share learnings

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What are the problems you hope your research will help solve?

  • Organizations investing time, effort and money but failing to have an impact on as many people as they could because they haven’t taken account of the diversity of their users’ needs.
  • Projects being less successful than they could as actors haven’t learnt from similar previous experiences.
  • Organisations duplicating projects because they don’t know about them
  • Niches of people with unique sets of needs (e.g.: minority languages) whose needs are being overlooked.
  • Organisations spending unnecessary time on desk research when they could be taking action.

What initiatives are already out there? What are they trying to achieve and who are they helping?

  • Most initiatives for children aim to deliver basic literacy and numeracy, sometimes with psychosocial skills
  • There are emerging models for higher education which involve a large component of online learning and mentoring with some face to face work. E.g.: Following MOOCs but in a camp classroom setting (Edraak), Kiron University, Jumiyah
  • There are several emerging models of blended digital education programmes such as Re:loaded and Re-di training a highly selected pool of candidates to become software engineers
  • Many education initiatives provide, as a starting point, a safe physical space for children to be during the day e.g.: Edlumino, UNICEF blue dot

What were your key findings having completed the research?

  • The user landscape is complex – collaborative design with end users is a must
  • There are no mature solutions yet which give refugees access to education from the day they can’t attend school in their home country to to the day their start formal education in their new country of asylum
  • The eco-system is still immature with little knowledge sharing
  • There are many promising initiatives but most are still in their infancy and being tested
  • Although many refugees have smartphones, there is far from consistently one per family member including all children and internet access is often unreliable and expensive. I think connectivity is a big part of the puzzle.

What would your message be to education innovators?

Go for it but co-create with end users from day 1.

According to Save The Children, at least 3.5 million refugee children are out of education. Millions more are in inadequate, overstretched school systems unable to meet their needs.

Although camps only represent a small part of the world refugee population, the average time spent in a camp is 17 years – more working solutions are needed.

As well as children’s education, every displaced adult is in need of re-training for work and integration in their new country.

The complexity of refugees’ situation means that there are multiple groups of people with distinct needs looking for unique solutions. Lots of room for innovation!

What are your next steps?

I’d like to share the research with innovators, ed-tech organisations and funders in the space.

How can other people get involved?

Please do:

  • enrich the framework with suggested extra questions
  • enrich the database with any missing initiatives we should know about
  • share the research with people who might find it helpful!

Contact Julia

To get in touch with Julia, please send her an email

15 questions to help define refugee learners

Where can I find the database of initiatives?

The demolition of Calais’ Jungle – Techfugees Notes

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Two weeks ago, The Techfugees team went to Calais to meet and talk with refugees, a few days ahead of the demolition.

The idea that technology can help support refugees is an obvious one, and we are interested in the “how”. Specifically, how can tech help refugees at each stage of their journey? Our goal for the weekend was to better understand the plight of refugees in camps and how tech can help them once the Calais Jungle was destroyed. How can tech help them communicate with loved ones, access information, and utilise NGOs on the ground to product vulnerable groups of women and children?

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We started our day early by going to meet the UK charities in operation on the ground. We first met Help Refugees who have been on the ground for a year and organising most of the volunteer donations and supplies, to get an idea of how the operations are organised, how many people are involved as volunteers, as well as learning about the post-Jungle plans.

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We saw how the charities rely on a large number of volunteers, with new arrivals every day. The briefing of volunteers is done face to face, with a great deal of reliance on improvised paper signs to organise the flow of people and materials. They have Whatsapp groups to organise the work: collection, triage and delivery – The impact that they achieve is commendable considering the resources they have, and is attributable to the unwavering dedication of their core team and volunteers. Watching the volunteers work tirelessly, we couldn’t help but wonder that is so much that could be done to make their work more efficient, to make their resources go further, and to make their efforts so much more impactful for the refugees.

We continued by going to the “Jungle” and meeting randomly with refugees. Some of them invited us into their “shelters” to talk about the demolition, and we listened to their stories. A lot of rumours were flying around. With each of them, we inquired on their use of technology and what kind of phones they had, what they were using it for, how they were paying for it etc.

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We saw that most of them use Android-based phones. They were constantly on Watsapp and Facebook – and yet they couldn’t get accurate or reliable information about the plan for the demolition, despite it happening over the next two days. We believe this presents a strong case for creating a trusted source of information – in the form of a chat-bot, or a simple, clean landing webpage in various languages and updated regularly. The IRC has already rolled out a successful project on these lines and Refugee Info Bus were the first to install wifi in Calais and provide legal information in 8 different languages.

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A garden in the Jungle.

We shared lunch with refugees and volunteers of charities at the last remaining restaurant of the Jungle, before heading to an volunteer-run school that was improvised from a container. A few children came, with a very wide age-range – from 18 months to about 8 years of age.

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There is much to be said about a classroom where teachers change every week, where the follow up on the formal classroom session is close to none, and the mixing of children of very different ages. Whilst the two volunteer teachers attempted to divide the class based on age in order to give them different activities, this made classroom management extremely difficult, and they both said that continuity was nearly impossible given the fluctuating attendance and revolving door of teachers. At best, it gave the children some form of engagement with educational material, but could not be said to constitute a proper education.

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There is a case here for a platform for teachers to share curricula and teaching materials across refugee camps worldwide, as well as the introduction of online records to facilitate handover between volunteer teachers. Teacher training- including online training- is also key, especially given that many volunteer teachers lack formal teaching qualifications or experience working in such chaotic conditions. There is also a case for a digital library, which can follow up on the children’s learning, and a real opportunity to teach refugee children languages with apps and games.

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chair outside of the school. The painting was found in the other camp of Grande Synthe, another camp 30 minutes away from Calais.

We then turned to Grande Synthe, near Dunkerque, where another camp has formed since last year. The mayor committed to building this camp to UNHCR standards. We were briefed on the camp history, and how it runs. Its future is uncertain, as the French state were opposed to its construction, but the mayor is determined to fight for the cause of refugee dignity and social inclusion. While by no means luxurious, it was a world of difference from Calais. People were given tools and equipment to cook and provide for themselves, and most importantly, it was safe enough for women and children to walk around freely.

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The mayor’s assistant expressed his interest to get refugees access to information online, as well as additional translation services to help refugees communicate and become socially included/ integrated. We are looking into coordinating a community of innovators that have worked in other camps, to provide internet and tech support to NGOs there. If you are interested in submitting your own solution for the camp or be part of the innovators coming with us – please do register yourself on Techfugees slack under the channel Grande Synthe.

**

It was not a pleasant field trip. The day left us quite exhausted and emotionally drained. It was not, for some of us, the first time in a camp but still – for all of us, the same troubling experience: seeing large numbers of people, including children, stuck in limbo, and without proper access to information. We couldn’t help but think about the consequences of a lost generation of children.

However we were able to observe first hand the complexity of the situation in which we are trying to deploy technology. Understanding the problem better will help us serve as a better conduit between the various stakeholders who are working hard to help refugees.

Donate to Techfugees to support technology solutions to refugees’ needs and social inclusion.

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Unicef NextGen x Techfugees Event

Posted on Posted in Events, News

By Gila Norich

UNICEF’s NextGen event held on October 10th in collaboration with Techfugees served as a strong reminder that the brightest and most well-placed in the tech sector remain deeply engaged in supporting the development of tech-based solutions that address the needs of refugees and other displaced placed persons, of which there are a staggering 65M around the world today. 

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The event opened with an emotive presentation by Steve Vranakis, Executive Creative Director of Google Creative Lab, who visited Lesbos in Autumn 2015, in the aftermath of a summer that brought nearly 1M refugees and asylum seekers – men, women, and children fleeing for their lives – onto European shores.

Recalling the frame of mind that summer, Vranakis opened, “people in the government were arguing in parliament and places like that, so I brought my team of creative activists [to Lesbos] who were uniquely positioned to make things quickly.”

In under 48 hours, his team came up with refugeeinfo.eu, a website designed to provide timely and much needed logistical information to the new arrivals; things like where go to find shelter, where to sleep, eat, receive medical care, and most importantly, information about the refugee application process – the long and opaque application each person claiming asylum must make in order to obtain official recognition and legal status.

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Steve mentioned the success the app had in keeping new arrivals safe in their first hours and days on foreign soil. Built in google docs, it was kept black and white to conserve battery power and effectively a CMS so that NGOs could update it in real time, use and deploy it easily.

“In harnessing technology for the refugee crisis, Wi-Fi and battery life become Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” Vranakis told a packed audience of technologists, development practitioners and young professionals inspired by NextGen’s call to action. Today, over a year into the current refugee crisis, 30 NGOs and counting still use the site to convey information and it is accessed by 1,000 refugees daily.

Steve Vranakis’ introduction made the point early: When implemented correctly, technology is a valuable tool for change. In the words of one of the panelists to follow, “This whole movement is about providing tech support to refugees.”

But a question begs answering – how do we know what’s implemented correctly? The evening’s panelists – representatives from leading refugee tech organizations Techfugees, Hello Hubs, Little Bridge, and Worldwide Tribe – provided important insights into the main issues concerning refugee tech. These organizations exemplify leading examples where technology is being applied successfully to mitigate specific social challenges exacerbated by the refugee crisis – peer and family interaction, access to education, and women’s empowerment, among others.

Moderating the discussion, Krizia Delgado, Manager of the Global Immigration Program at the Jamae Law Group and head of the International Migration and Refugee Hub Project, prompted the panelists to distil both the why and the how refugee tech is bringing important change.

Tech is a tool

“What’s most important are the actual users behind the technology,” Katrin Macmillan of Hello Hubs, a community-built, off-grid internet kiosks for education and development, asserted.

“For us, it is Important that refugees build the technology. As a tool, the Hubs provides a way to hear the grassroots news, stories that go beyond a reductionist news cycle. The displaced from all around the world can talk about and share their experiences – and be heard.”

Technology scales

Josephine Goube, COO of Techfugees, a London-based enterprise leading the tech community response to the needs of refugees, explained, “quite simply, technology connects people. In contrast to the way people in western economies use apps and technology – namely for productivity reasons – refugees are using technology to communicate.”

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User-centered design and data privacy

Panelist agreed that a new paradigm in tech and in humanitarian aid is essential. Macmillan of Hello Hubs asserted, [it is] absolutely crucial to make sure solutions are human-centered and community-led. Ten years out, they want to see refugees building their own technologies, completely on their own.

Referring to criticism that regular use of technology might be bad for children, Macmillan responded, “Saying that making the internet available to kids is only going to increase their use of porn websites, etc. completely devalues children’s ambitions. Children really want to learn and explore the world.” Technology, she is certain, is enabling them to do so.

New technologies?

Goube of Techfugees was quick to note the prospects and applicability of Blockchain and Bluetooth 5.0, which can connect to other phones that are over 700m away. “3G has security issues, whereas Bluetooth is much cheaper.” Crowdcaster was also mentioned as a breakthrough technology, which allows 140 seconds of radio, allowing a means of direct and on-the-ground, real-time communication between refugees and western audiences.

Where is the ecosystem headed?

“Anyone who didn’t make it (succeed) has been phased out,” said Goube, referring to the refugee-tech ecosystem that blossomed over the past year. “1 year on – one may view this as rather soon to declare coming of age – but perhaps its standard in a fast-moving tech environment – we are seeing the structuring of an eco-system; collaborations are forming; we are seeing the maturing of organizations and partnerships.”

Funding

“Because they aren’t flashy and fancy, they typically do not attract investors,” explained Goube. “This often makes it hard to secure buy-in from larger scale investors.” Indeed, most initiatives are still running thanks to the unwavering commitment of volunteers who are seeing an undisputed positive impact on the lives of beneficiaries. 

Despite the overwhelming versatility of getting by with a crew of volunteers, facilitating tech in support for the needs of refugees does require various forms of financial backing. Richard Thanki from Worldwide Tribe mentioned the secret to his organization’s achievement was in crowdfunding. “We began telling stories and making documentaries, which are available on youtube. Worldwide Tribe raised 400K GBP. “This is a thermometer that says people do care.”

How to measure the impact of tech for refugees?

Hello Hubs benefits from 17 years of research into how children become autodidactic. They have harnessed this research to see what can happen when children are left to their own devices to learn. In their words, this research makes it easier to fundraise and scale. Another panelist, Emma Rogers, CEO and Founder of Little Bridge, said that her organization helped refugee women emerge from their homes and begin to learn English.

Noting the importance of impact measurement, the panelists also carefully warned against being too dogmatic in the impact measurement process, citing especially the danger of developing overly analytical approaches to measuring impact.

“Some impacts cannot be measured by data and they should not be reduced into data points.” Goube put it further into perspective, “While some may not have exact numbers, we know that technology has helped people get rescued at sea. Access to technology allows refugees to be better informed about their immediate and long-term futures and as a result, they can make better decisions.

Indeed, a key takeaway shared by all the speakers throughout the evening was the important role technology is playing and continues to play in addressing both the short and long-term needs of refugees and the communities and countries absorbing them.

Yet it also did not obscure the fact that tech solutions for and with refugees are often a unique variety. They were careful to note that what works is not a one size fits all approach, and likewise, warned against blindly applying the same solutions that are popular and widely used in western settings. “By nature, most of the solutions needs to be very – extremely – basic.”

As Vranakis of Google Creative Lab put it at the start of the event, “When you provide refugees with the possibility of stability, you’re already doing so much.”