Empowering displaced people with technology
Techfugees is an international non-profit organization which coordinates the commitment of the technology community to build solutions with displaced people and to contribute to meet their needs in terms of access to rights, education, health, employment and social inclusion.
Techfugees manages and supports long-term projects for displaced people within the framework of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
Techfugees has developed these Guiding Principles based on nearly 3 years of experience running hackathons and events in 25 countries. This experience is the foundation for Techfugees conviction that tech projects could have a long-term impact on refugees and displaced people if they are guided by some ethical principles and values.
These Guiding Principles are not imposed on the community as a prescription but are here to guide our collective action towards a shared goal: to create technology with positive impact for displaced people around the world.
These Guiding Principles are aimed at providing you with useful guidance to start a #tech4refugees’ project and it is important to both recognise that there is always a huge amount of extra resources and partners needed for a successful implementation.
We, at Techfugees, strive to facilitate access to these resources.
1. Start with displaced people
The Techfugees community builds technology that contributes to the response of the needs of refugees and displaced people. Any design and deployment of technology shall use a human-centered design approach, which is a process that starts with refugees and ends with tailored made solutions that suit their needs. Human-centered design is about building deep empathy with users and co-creating with your users.
2. From refugees to Techfugees
In the process of building technology with and for refugees and displaced people, aim to make your targeted users not only beneficiaries of your technology, but aim to build it with them and make them co-creators. By offering them the opportunity to make revenue or learn something new through the use of your tech, they not only benefit from the services your product offers, the refugees and displaced people become empowered advocates of your technology.
3. Don’t collect data for data’s sake!
(#DataGovernance & #Transparency)
Displaced people can be helped as well as harmed by the use of data. Protecting these vulnerable people from the harms posed by data use is a shared responsibility. Here a few recommendations to bear in mind:
- The collection, generation and use of data should never be done simply because they can be; the need and potential benefits should be clear, defined and justified as a way to respond to a need or improve the service towards refugees.
- Presume that all your users will not read the terms and conditions of your technology product. Consider the ethical implications of collecting data when building your product.
- If you choose to disclose data, it must not lead to already vulnerable individuals and communities being further harmed or exploited. In case where it is possible, pre-identify risks associated with a proposed used of data.
- Assume that hostile regimes may attempt to access data for the wrong reasons. Most State supported hackers and some Government surveillance services are capable of hacking any data.
- As most data breaches and leaking come from human failure, it matters that you take extra care in the way you store, who has access and how one can get access to the data. Make sure to always adhere to legal and ethical standards in place.
- Any data or results deriving from a population should be shared with that population. Too many communities in tech projects get asked for their data without seeing the results!
Overall, this data responsibility rule goes beyond the concepts of “data privacy” and “data protection”. It entails a set of principles, processes and tools that seek to leverage data to improve people’s lives in a responsible manner.
4. Sharing is caring
At Techfugees, we believe in creativity and sharing ideas. As such, the open-source model is our favored model for software development when building tech for refugees. Open source projects are adequate with our philosophy of empowering vulnerable, displaced populations: open source code is of universal access, decentralized and co-created by nature. It encourages collaboration and so peer-to-peer learning within the community.
5. Because we are all in this together
What works at empowering displaced populations could be used to help other vulnerable populations, like homeless people or unemployed youth. Building tech for refugees should aim to contribute to the improvement of the whole local community: not increasing inequality or harming any members of the community, while aiming to help as many as is feasible.
6. Good intentions are great to start with but sustainability is the key to real impact
Keep in mind that you are dealing with users that rarely have the luxury to have other options; as such you should ensure consistent service and be ready to take appropriate measure if the technology proves to be dysfunctional or outdated.
We stress the need to think about how your product fits into the whole ecosystem: isn’t there a solution that already exists? Line up clear ideas of business models, don’t postpone them for later.
An app that does not work anymore or is left not up to date can harm the life of refugees and displaced people, creating distrust towards technology and the ecosystem of refugee tech. Build tools that the community can take ownership of and maintain even if you disappear.
A quick warning for products relying on a lot of fresh content: content goes outdated fast. Think twice about your responsibility to keep it updated and your users informed about when it was last edited.
7. Integration isn’t just a refugee issue, but a political problem too
You will find that innovating for integration is tough: it becomes very political very fast and the problem tends to be that laws are constraining or preventing empowerment of the very people you are trying to help.
As such, Techfugees recommends that you become knowledgeable in a human rights-based approach. This is “a conceptual framework for the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights”.
Not only will it educate you to the heart of development problems and unveil the discriminatory practices and unjust distributions of power, it will help anchor your approach and tech solution to a system of rights and corresponding obligations established by international law, helping the sustainability of your work and empowering the vulnerable populations you help to participate in policy formulation.
8. Remember: Tech is just a tool
Technology alone cannot make up for the absence of political will or the lack of a shared commitment to solving this problem as a global community. We understand that the limitation of technology products to drive change at scale and drive the impact driven innovation. We love projects that are aware of their limitations and focus on solving parts of the problem in specific contexts while seeking to design for relocalization to many other communities.
Techfugees is not political, non-religious and supports equal opportunities for all gender and races.
We also recommend the following readings: