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Put technology in the hands of the displaced

This article originally appeared on OpenCanada.org on September 29, 2017 as part of a larger series with 6 Degrees Citizen Space 2017 speakers entitled Walls that need to go: Ideas for a more inclusive world. See full post here.

In 2016, 47 percent of the world’s population had access to the internet. This is up from just one percent in 1995. The internet, and more broadly technology, has had a profound effect on our lives and has changed the way we interact. Think about it: your smartphone is more powerful than the technology which has put man on the moon. So, there’s no shock then that people fleeing wars, persecution and natural disasters would use the same internet and technology to seek support, guidance and assistance when in need.In the past decade, the numbers of displaced persons using smartphones, social networks and the internet to access services and advice has been on the increase. A recent report from better lab in Germany reports that smartphone use is almost universal for Syrian refugees. This is no more apparent than in the media coverage of what they dub the “refugee crisis,” which shows refugees accessing services and provisions through the use of their smartphones.

Techfugees therefore seeks to empower those displaced through the use of such mobiletechnology. We focus on five key areas in which mobile tech holds the biggest potential to impact refugee lives: access to information, education, identity, health and community. To cater for the specific needs of refugees and displaced in the domain, we create hackathons — events designed to bring together technologists, charities, governments and displaced persons to co-create bespoke and technical solutions.

Through those hackathons, Techfugees enables spaces allowing for constructive dialogues between refugees and locals. We don’t come with answers and solutions. We come together with questions and tools to share and design a future together.

An example of such meeting was a hackathon over the summer with Paris 2024, Paris’ bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. The event brought together over 50 people, from 20 different nationalities to ‘hack’ and think together ways of using available technologies such as apps, messaging platforms and social networks to reconnect refugees to sport and locals. Half of participants were refugees, while the other half was made of locals passionate about sports or tech. In total, 15 prototypes were designed throughout the 48-hour event, with two teams winning an incubation of six months at Liberté Living Lab and Le comptoir de l’innovation, two Parisian social tech incubators. The incubation programme will enable them to develop the prototype further so it can be deployed at local sports clubs as a first pilot. If successful, the project could be used during and after the Olympic Games of Paris 2024.

For us techies, we understand digital technologies as powerful agents to scale solutions and bring transparency in the process. We look at the way humanitarian aid and delivery of services to refugees happen in the humanitarian sector and wonder how we could make processes more efficient, more dignified, and in a way that it empowers its end recipient. In short, how do we co-create those processes.

There have never been as many refugees and displaced people in the world, and more than half of them are under 18 years old. The societal challenge that refugees represent is of global scale and will not go away. We know there will be more flooding and bigger hurricanes.

To date, we haven’t made best use of technologies. But with continued instability in the Middle East region and new challenges in South-East Asia, we will confront greater migration flows. Now is the time to start embracing tech.

We need to redevelop our understanding of migration systems and refugee assistance. First by putting refugees and local communities needs at the centre, instead of assuming what’s best for them, and decide upon successful and failed experience of humanitarians in the space, where we go together.

Where possible, we need to create local capabilities for refugees to come up with solutions for themselves that contribute to the local community they have settled in. Refugees have talents and can bring something to society, if given the chance.

The solutions Techfugees community is developing today will assist the displaced, irrespective of whether their displacement was by the Syrian civil war or hurricanes Harvey and Irma. They are helping to advance the Sustainable Development Goals and society as a whole, a line of code at a time. We hope you can join us on this journey, by coming to Techfugees Global Summit 2017 in Paris.

Josephine Goube is the CEO of Techfugees