January 20 2016By Charlotte Knight
The past twelve months have been dominated by news of refugees fleeing places of conflict, an illustration of how hardship that originates in faraway lands can affect us deeply at home. The BBC reported that over a million people arrived in EU countries in 2015, and we saw their plight reported in newspapers and on our television and computer screens every day.
When selecting our final 2015 NT100 projects, it was important to us to recognise a number of people and organisations that have been working hard to utilise technology to help those fleeing dangerous environments. Four of our 2015 NT100 projects demonstrate how digital technology can be rapidly harnessed to help displaced communities.
Refugees Welcome is a German non-profit platform that matches refugees with people who have spare rooms in their homes. This social venture works rather like Airbnb for refugees, with householders advertising their rooms much as they would on any flatshare website. The refugees pay rent sometimes helped by government grants, but often financed through crowdfunding. By living in a stable environment within a welcoming local household, the newcomers can begin to build a new life in a new land.
During the perilous journeys over land and sea, families are often split up, and even if they make it to safety they still have difficulties to face in the search for their loved ones. REFUNITE is a service that helps to reunite refugees who have been separated, by consolidating available information into a database and making details available to search on the project website. The details are entered into the system by refugees, so for example, a person who has made it to Denmark can upload his details and if his sister in another country has done the same, the two can be reunited via the online platform. The project is a great example of how simple technology can be used in an innovative way to make a huge difference – over five million searches have been made to date, for and by, displaced people around the world.
Refugees on Rails is a Berlin-based education initiative that provides refugees with donated laptops and teaches them to code, giving them the skills necessary to pursue employment in the lucrative tech sector. By giving refugees the confidence to seek highly-skilled work, Refugees on Rails is playing an important part in the integration of displaced peoples into their new societies. The school, run by volunteers and reliant on donations, is an inspirational example of digital technology being used to solve a live and pressing problem.
The fourth project we wanted to highlight is Techfugees, a community of tech savvy volunteers who pool their considerable tech knowledge to come up with solutions to help better the lives of the millions of refugees on the move worldwide. Over 700 volunteers have signed up to contribute in hack-a-thons and at conferences, and already their expertise has been put to good use. In the UK, £5000 was raised by Techfugees to bring wifi to the camp in Calais, allowing people to connect with loved ones, contact embassies and aid organisations, and research asylum applications. Techfugees’ work is tireless and ongoing - the volunteers are constantly thinking up new apps, platforms and organisational solutions to the many difficulties faced by refugees every day.
All of the projects showcased in the 2015 NT100 are using digital technologies to provide solutions to major social challenges. What impressed us about these four initiatives was the speed and agility with which they each responded to an urgent global problem. As individuals we often feel powerless to help, but the truth is technology gives us significant power to make real changes fast – and these four remarkable projects have proven this to us.