May 072017

Last week saw the inaugural Sydney Techfugees Meetup at the Australian offices of TripAdvisor, an initiative that not just assists new arrivals to the country but shows the importance of keeping a society diverse.

Techfugees is a UK founded initiative harnessing the international tech community’s skills to assist with the global refugee crisis, the Australian offshoot was set up in 2015 with the aim of helping refugees settle into the Australian community.

Moving countries is stressful for most people and migrants often face problems accessing services and capital. For refugees who’ve been traumatised by dislocation and war, the problems are even greater.

Having had four hackathons, the Sydney meetup was an opportunity for the organisers to showcase their work and five new projects that addressed problems facing immigrant communities.

A refugee’s story

Kicking off the event was a brief presentation from Mahir Momand, former refugee from Afghanistan and now the Australian CEO of Thrive, a microfinance business for refugee businesses.

Momand’s story tells us much about the refugee story, born in Afghanistan his family fled to Pakistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion. Twice he returning to his home country before having to flee each time after his charitable work incurred the wrath of the Taliban.

For migrants and refugee families, microfinancing an important idea, with few assets or business links in their new country is hard for them to access capital so this is an important way to stimulate employment among groups that tend to be entrepreneurial. This is one area where an concept designed for developing communities applies just as well to advanced economies.

Presenting the apps

The groups that presented at the meet up were diverse, One Step App offers walking tours which aims to build bridges between the immigrant and established communities while Cinema of the Oppressed looks at using video and other creative tools to help alleviate depression and isolation among new arrivals.

On a more functional level, Water Democracy is developing a cheap and accessible device to purify water in disadvantaged communities while mAdapt uses mobile technology to increase refugee access to essential reproductive health services.

Upload Once, the first project to present, is intended to keep a new arrival’s documentation in one place to make it easier for them to maintain and access important records which is essential for dealing with the bureaucracy when arriving in a new country.

Bringing in diverse skills

All of the Techfugees projects showed the diverse range of needs and talents of refugees and new immigrants.

In these troubled, and scared, times it shouldn’t be forgotten how refugees and immigrants have been the strengths of most the successful Twentieth Century economies – most notably the United States and Australia, countries which are erecting greater barriers at the same time they are congratulating themselves for their successful immigrant societies.

With technology changing the workforce, harnessing the talents and work ethic of displaced people could well be one of the strengths for this century as well. Techfugees is a small taste of what could be done.

  One Response to “Harnessing refugee talent”

  1. Thanks Paul for your interest and coverage of Techfugees – and the startups. Isn’t it great people are volunteering to invest time and effort to enhance the lives of new Australians?

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