Tech community bands together to help refugees

  • Techfugees looking to spread chapter to South-East Asia
  • Seeking interested parties to use tech to help global refugee problems
Tech community bands together to help refugees
TECHFUGEES, a politically independent social enterprise, is looking to expand its reach beyond Europe into South-East Asia in a bid to broaden its mission by utilising technology to create innovative solutions to help displaced refugees, said its founder.

Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) at the ongoing Oslo Innovation Week in Norway this week, Mike Butcher said Techfugees has had a lot of successes in its programme in Australia and is looking at expanding its work into South-East Asia.

“There have been a lot of Techfugees activities in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, producing programmes that help refugees get jobs, for example,” he said. “We’d love to create a chapter in South-East Asia but we’re just right now not able to [yet].”

Techfugees is a social enterprise coordinating the international tech community’s response to the needs of refugees. The name Techfugees was conceived by Butcher on the streets of London, when he and several like-minded people were moved by the plight of refugees in Europe to do something positive for the displaced community.

Butcher, whose day job is editor-at-large of tech portal Techcrunch, formed a voluntary team in 2015 to create the series of non-profit Techfugees conferences, hackathons, and meetups around the world with a global network of collaborators.

Its aims are to generate tech solutions that can help refugees and also curate and promote the best projects it finds for implementation in the field.

Asked what Techfugees has done to promote itself beyond European borders, Butcher said it was in the process of open sourcing all of its materials.

Quizzed as to when this would happen by, Butcher said, “We’re just about to complete this by the end of the year,” he said, adding that this effort will form a platform by which others interested in starting a local chapter can do so easily.

Butcher also revealed that Techfugees is currently working with various traditional international media organisations such as the Schibsted Media Group, as well as utilising its social media links on Facebook and Twitter to get the word out.

According to Josephine Goube, chief operating officer of Techfugees, the non-profit group is still currently a volunteer-based organisation and has limited resources to go all out to spread its vision and mission.

Goube, who also spoke to DNA at the sidelines of the Oslo Innovation Week, said the group is currently reaching out to all kinds of organisations that are willing to work with Techfugees in bringing sustainable solutions to the refugee community.

“We are aware that we should be in South-East Asia and we are looking for local ambassadors from that region to reach out to,” she said. “Generally, we get local people contacting us and we will help them set up a local chapter.”

Goube acknowledged that it hasn’t been easy managing Techfugees, as it has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception to 27 chapters worldwide today.

“[But] we’re currently looking at funding and once that’s in place, we can scale out more and expand our reach,” she explained. “Meanwhile, those who are interested can get in touch with us through our various social media channels.”

Tech community bands together to help refugees


Hackathon winner

In conjunction with the Oslo Innovation Week, Techfugees co-organised a hackathon with Schibsted Media Group, in which developers battled it out to help solve real-world problems and created solutions with the aim of encouraging better integration of refugees in Norway.

Twelve teams in total pitched their solutions during the hackathon, after which only three made the cut as finalists. They were SkiwoGo, Heart to Heart, and Kom Inn (Come Inside in Norwegian).

The jury – comprising Goube, Tharald Nustad, founder and chairman of Plastilin and Chul Christian Aamodt, founder of the media company enerWE – adjudged the winner of the hackathon to be Kom Inn.

Kom Inn is a platform for introducing refugees to their new neighbours over dinner. The dinners allow the newcomers to practice their Norwegian skills while making friends with local citizens.

The prize for winner includes mentorship and office space sponsored by Northzone, one of the foremost venture capital firms in Scandinavia and Bakken&Baeck, a leading design firm in Oslo.

“What was created here this weekend might appear as having relatively small or limited impact and yet we know that these prototypes have the potential to be deployed in other places and countries,” said Techfugees’ Goube.

“It also creates awareness in the tech industry about the real problems of real refugees, which are not that different from any migrant or newcomer to a city sometimes,” she added.

Edwin Yapp reports from the Oslo Innovation Week, Norway at the invitation of the City of Oslo and Innovation Norway. All editorials are independent.
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