Earlier this year, Techfugees became a beneficiary of Transnational Giving Europe. As they are launching an exciting new crowdfunding campaign this month, under the slogan #TechDownBorders, the TGE team interviewed Ms. Louise Brosset, Global Community Coordinator.
TGE: Could you describe Techfugees in a few words?
Ms. Brosset: Techfugees is an international nonprofit organization, working with volunteers all over the world, whose goal is to support refugees and help them integrate with the help of technology. Not only does Techfugees work for refugees but also with refugees : we empower them and help them get access to information (internet, translation services, rights), education (ICT skills, primary/secondary education, diploma recognition), employment (remote work financial inclusion), health (mental well being, sanitary information, care…) and social inclusion (language, cultural exchange…). We provide these services both in host countries in Europe and North America, as well as in countries bordering displacement zones such as Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya or Lebanon.
The three main fields of activities of Techfugees are “innovation”, where volunteers support digital projects on a local scale in 8 different countries showcased in a public platform, Basefugees, “inclusion”, with professional programs for refugee women to get (back) into tech jobs, and “insight”, field research organized around a datahub platform to understand the problems that refugees are facing and to provide them with the digital appropriate solutions.
TGE: This month, Techfugees is launching a new project called “Basefugees”. Could you explain the goals of your campaign?
Ms. Brosset: The starting date of our campaign is no coincidence, as the 14th of June marks the beginning of the World Refugee Week. The campaign will last for a month and we aim to raise 50.000€ to launch our “Basefugees” platform. This consists of an open database of all selected digital projects we are working with, so that we can increase their visibility, facilitate connections with other actors working in the same domain in other countries and learn from their experience, and support our volunteers’ efforts internationally. We support those tech products or services with technical help, mentoring hackathons, design sprints, etc.) and help with deployment the local needs.
To be listed on our platform, projects have to follow our eight guiding principles. These principles serve as guidelines to provide the best digital services answering the needs of refugees (and forcibly displaced persons regardless their status: asylum seekers, IDPs, stateless persons…). Among them are of course a human-centered design, data privacy and transparency, and the most important I think is “No Tech Solutionism”. Technology is a neutral tool, that can be used for bad motives, such as controlling people, but on the other hand, it can also be used to provide independence and social justice, which is our objective.
This is our first crowdfunding campaign, and we have selected 5 projects, in Uganda, Lebanon, Nigeria, Kenya and France to illustrate the work of our Global Community and the potential of Basefugees. Our donors can choose to support Techfugees in general or to support one project in particular.
TGE: Could you tell us a bit more about these 5 projects?
Ms. Brosset: In Uganda, our team of volunteers is based between Rwamwanja settlement and the capital, Kampala. Our goal is to facilitate access to the internet and to education (with a focus on digital skills) in the refugee camp. For this project we have partnered with Buffalo grid, which will provide them hubs powered by solar energy to charge electronic devices and create a local connection to provide offline digital educational content. Funds raised will enable the construction of a local computer lab, research to improve existing solutions and support the technical development of Basefugees.
Our project in Kenya, for which we have partnered with the Kenya Red Cross, is called “E-Health Watch”. It started from a hackathon in 2019, about the health-related needs of communities living at Kakuma Refugee Camp and the KRC social workers. The camp is huge (about 200,000 persons) and it is complicated to take care of the healthcare needs of the inhabitants of the camp at the right time. To remedy to this problem a group of Kenyan developers called Faceless Hackers created a simple digital service that enables refugees to communicate with health service providers either via text or through app. After a promising pilot phase early 2021, the funds will help us deploy this solution for a second test in Mukuru with urban refugee communities and research how to improve it.
In Nigeria, our team is based between Lagos and Abuja. We work with internally displaced women in settlements near Abuja (Area1). Many women in these camps are trained in handicrafts, but it is complicated for them to sell their products inside the camps, because people usually don’t shop for non-essential products in the camps and no one goes shopping in a settlement. Our goal is to co-build with them an Ecommerce platform, Displaced People’s market, and provide digital skills training for them to be autonomous in selling their products and supporting their families. Funds will be used to train women in the camps to use the platform and provide them with IT equipment.
Techfugees Lebanon wants to facilitate access to employment for Syrian and Palestinian refugees. In 2019, we carried out a study to understand the barriers to employment in Bekaa Valley. This study revealed that many refugees had digital skills, but were struggling to find opportunities in the local market. We were able with no direct funding to train 25 refugees in Bekaa, Beirut and Tripoli, in partnership with local computer labs and the social enterprise Humans in the Loop. Following this successful pilot program, we are looking to create a new paid apprenticeship scheme for refugees on data labelling services, a booming sector to prepare AI algorithms. The program will focus on preparing the participants for online microwork. Funds will help us to scale and sustain this program.
And finally our project in France. In 2021, we approached Refugee Info Bus, a NGO based in Calais and in the UK. They provide free access to the internet, phone charging and legal information to refugees. The covid-19 pandemic underlined once more how important internet access is, especially to marginalized communities : without the internet, it became much harder to access digitalized government services, follow remote courses (language, education…), get access to translation services, or leisure content, etc. The funds for this project will help us collect better IT material, data and organize workshops on low tech in Calais.
Beyond those five initiatives, in the long run, our objective is to add new projects to Basefugees and help them to grow to deliver more impact. But first, we need the feedback from these five initial projects to improve our prototype. Hopefully, this campaign will only be the beginning of a much greater collaborative dynamic.
TGE: Is cross-border giving an important part of your fundraising strategy for this project? Do you plan to target a country in particular?
Ms. Brosset: Cross-border giving is very important for us since we have a digital community : since our creation, people and private organizations have supported us from all over the world, in the UK, US, Norway, Australia, Jordan, France… Our partners and donors are international, even though our roots are mostly in Europe and the Middle East, as the organization was born in the UK. We don’t choose to expand in some countries in particular, but we are contacted by locals and displaced persons who believe our community can help them change the situation in their area.
Forced displacements are international by nature. Today, 1% of humanity, almost 80 million people, is forcibly displaced, and with climate change only, this number will sadly increase exponentially.
Let’s not forget to mention the role of diaspora communities’ cross-border giving who want to support projects to improve living conditions back in their home countries.
TGE: Why did you decide to join the TGE network?
Ms. Brosset: Techfugees is an organization that is mostly composed of volunteers, with only a small team that works as employees and coordinates our actions. We have a small structure but we have projects in many different countries. Our local volunteer chapters have no legal entities, in that regard all is handled by our non-profit umbrella, Techfugees Foundation, in the UK.
We joined TGE to facilitate cross-border giving, to work with a partner that covers many countries in Europe and abroad and that will help us gain the trust of both private and individual local donors. Donations are important for our work, so we have to ensure it is as easy as possible for our supporters, wherever they are in the world to financially support our work.
TGE: What was the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Techfugees?
Ms. Brosset: The pandemic emphasized existing inequalities and revealed how important the access to digital technology is for marginalized communities (to the remaining skeptics) and it sadly helped somehow to legitimize our work, as inequalities in access to technology increased and were clearly highlighted. It also confirmed that digital technology would not replace human interaction and solidarity, but that it was only a tool that could give alternative means to facilitate equal access to opportunities. For instance, with remote work becoming the new norm, it was the occasion to question traditional recruiting policies: as Human Resources departments realized that they did not have to limit themselves to the local area to find new talents, and they could find qualified talents abroad.
The pandemic also triggered a new activity: the Techfugees Data Hub. In 2020, after the first lockdown, we launched our open data platform, which at the time was focused on covid-19 related issues and public discussions, the Live Sessions, to present digital solutions to the local contributors : how to get online psychological support? How to find work online? How to get access to internet in overcrowded refugee camps?
Although our volunteers had less opportunities to physically meet each other, it also brought them closer to Techfugees volunteers in other countries as they could also participate in their online meetings.
To learn more about Techfugees :
Website : https://techfugees.com/
To support Techfugees : https://donate.transnationalgiving.eu/landing/techfugees?lang=en_EN
Want to follow Techfugees?
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/Techfugees
Twitter : https://twitter.com/Techfugees
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/techfugees/?hl=en