Opening windows to work for internally displaced Syrians

This blogpost is part of a series about the Digital Steps program, a collaboration between Build Up and the British Council Syria. Over the past 9 months, Build Up has been working with a group of Syrian artists and innovators who are building peaceful coexistence inside Syria. Their peacetech work is truly inspirational, and you can find out more here.

Wow, or ‘We Open Windows’ is a Syrian initiative that seeks to connect job-seekers with employers through a Facebook messenger chatbot. With the support of Digital Steps, Wow has gone from an idea into a functioning chatbot that is will launch on Facebook in the coming weeks. In preparation for the launch, the Wow team have collected information from over 200 employees and employers and conducted outreach among potential users.

Jarmana, where the Wow project is piloting.

Jobs and coexistence

The idea for Wow stemmed from the team’s work with local communities.

‘We realised that the conflict had broken down connections between individuals, including employment connections.’

A lack of social connections between displaced and host communities is fostering significant economic division and unemployment.

‘Today, people are using relationships to get jobs, it’s all done through networks or through physical advertisements. It’s a very closed circle and often encourages discrimination.’

Through Wow, they hope to tackle this divide and convey a message of coexistence through employment.

‘We want to show that we can work together despite our differences. This is our core message’.

Steep learning curve

To do so, the Wow team will facilitate connections between job-seekers and employers based on skills and experience, rather than on religion and place of origin. They will also share messages of coexistence in the workplace with their network, posting stories on their Facebook page and conducting additional activities to support coexistence through employment. The Wow team hopes to do more than just connect people for work.

For the Wow team, using technology was a steep learning curve. They recognise the importance of starting with the user, of understanding the ecosystem in which your users will operate — that was a big motivation for them to develop a Facebook chatbot rather than an app. But, says one of Wow’s founders;

‘There are a lot of steps that have to happen before you can do anything innovative, there is a lot of research that needs to go into the process to make sure you make the right decisions for the user. At first, we underestimated those stages.’

It wasn’t just the technology aspect that was challenging — managing a team for the first time comes with its challenges too, andthe situation in Damascus made it difficult for them to continue the user testing process. In the face of this, it was important for the Wow team to feel supported, not just financially, but emotionally too.

‘At some points, we felt like giving up. But when we realised that the support [of Digital Steps] was flexible, and that others believed in our idea, we kept going.’

Wow hopes that more flexible support will be provided inside Syria in the future, and that the spotlight will be shined on people on the ground doing innovative work, so that their challenges and needs can be better understood by donors and supporters alike.

Changing service provision in Syria

Moving forward, the Wow team has a wide vision of the change they can bring about:

‘We want to change the way services are provided and accessed in Syria. We want to show people that technology can be used to improve service delivery, that it can make it possible for people to reach services that had previously been closed off to them. We want to change the way people find jobs and employees, so they don’t have to rely on relationships anymore.
Our future Syria is one where services are delivered in a new way, where jobs are found on the basis of experience not relationships, and where coexistence is fostered in the workplace and beyond.’

Wow’s is an ambitious goal, but one that is increasingly relevant in Syria and abroad.