Techfugees Global Summit 2018

Thoughts, highlights & key takeaways

Chris Rotsteeg
Dec 27, 2018 · 7 min read

You watched the video before you started reading, right? This is Khalid. I met Khalid two months ago at the Techfugees Global Summit in Paris. Corporates, NGOs, startups, techies and refugees come together for two days during this event, in order to debate and to discuss the various uses of technology for displaced people during the time of migration until arrival in their new society. Yes, this was copy pasted from their website, sorry about that.

Khalid was there to help out Kate from Crisis Classroom. I will tell you about her and the project a wee bit more later. First, I’d like to tell you what I, as UX designer, was doing at an event that brings tech & refugees together. I work for Schibsted, one of the partners of the event. It didn’t take me much hesitation when I was asked to attend the Summit. I firmly believe that the tech industry has the opportunity to make the world a better place, using the same skillset and competences that we do in our daily life where we are optimising user flow, reviewing pull requests and increasing revenue for the sake of profit. And as we are now heading towards 2019, I’d like to share my highlights and key takeaways with you. Let’s go!

The Station F campus

This year the summit was held at the wonderful Station F campus in Paris, France. This is the world’s biggest startup hub and a perfect location to host the Techfugees summit. It was time to kick off the event on Thursday afternoon by meeting with Brit Nilsen, Group Compliance Officer at Schibsted. We briefly talked about our expectations for the following days, and the opportunities, responsibilities and possibilities for corporates when it comes to the refugee crisis.

“Technology is not a solution for a political problem”

Mike Butcher, founder of Techfugees, pointed out in the opening speech that it is not about tech, it is about people. He started the initiative back in 2015, when Europe was in the midst of the refugee crisis, as he realised that the industry has to do something. Like any other self respecting startup, he created the hashtag, registered the facebook page and then started thinking …. what to do now ? Within 48 hours, over more than 300 likeminded people had gotten in contact with him. It is key for Schibsted to be socially responsible at a time in which freedom of speech, corp influenced journalism and populism are, unfortunately, daily stuff. George Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece, pointed out that refugees and displaced people can also be seen as an opportunity for us all, as they often point out society’s imperfections and shortcomings. Stuff that we can work on…

Track 1: Inclusion

I followed two tracks during these days. The first track was inclusion. It is extremely challenging for refugees and newcomers to arrive in a country and not speaking the language or knowing where to get the relevant information that is needed for successful social inclusion. Munzer Khattab from Syria faced these problem when he arrived in 2015 in Germany. There was an overkill of information, but it was not always relevant, and in German. Even his German friends had troubles understanding the paperwork. Munzer founded Bureaucrazy in order to tackle this problem. The organisation breaks down barriers of administrative procedures and makes information accessible for both refugees and Germans. Bureaucrazy has created an app that translates difficult forms and applications to the persons’ native language, enabling them to fill out those forms in their own language. Information is often not enough, it also needs to be interpreted correctly. The app also gives guidance and recommendations throughout bureaucratic processes.

The corporate world and private sector can provide a key role towards integration and inclusion of refugees and immigrants. Needless to say that a job — one which doesn’t exploit your situation — helps refugees and immigrants in building a new life and shaping their future. It also generates economic benefits: Improving outcomes for this refugee cohort can deliver an overall GDP contribution of some €60 billion to €70 billion annually by 2025, as well as a potential demographic boost that could benefit ageing societies. A study from McKinsey in 2017 showed that companies with an ethnic and cultural diversity have a 33 percent likelihood of outperformance on EBIT margin.

One of many panel discussions

There is often a biased image of refugees, that doesn’t correspond with their competencies. Not having the diplomas or the right paperwork should not prevent you from doing what you’re good at. Whether that’s coding, manufacturing chairs, being a dentist. Or teaching other people your language — something that NaTakallam enables, as founder Aline Sara explained. This is a civic tech initiative connects refugees and displaced persons with work opportunities in the language sector through the freelance economy — basically, learning a language through video calls with refugees as online tutors.

Something I heard a few times, was the frustration of being called a refugee after a period of time. When exactly is one not seen as a refugee anymore — after social, financial and corporate inclusion?

Track 2: Digital identity

Which brings me to the second track. What defines an identity for newcomers that don’t have a passport of birth certificate? Why is this physical proof of existence still needed in our global society? Digital identities are nowadays possible through technological innovations. They have the power to prevent health, financial, legal and trafficking problems, to name just a few. Not being restricted by borders enables people to have an identity everywhere, at any time.

Tey Al Rjula is one of the three founders of Tykn, a civtech company that fights to provide access to human rights by building digital identity tools for NGOs and governments. We all agree that identity is a fundamental right, right? The challenge faced by many refugees is that paper based identification isn’t very sustainable: They are unable to verify the authenticity of their documents, or lose other important documents such as birth certificates, land titles and academic certificates. Newborns in camps are unable to complete the birth registration process, due to economic, geographical and complex administrative barriers. Tykn offers a Blockchain as a Service solution to NGOs and governments, empowering them with Blockchain-based identification tools. This enables them to build & design systems for the registration and verification of persons via a distributed ledger. It reduces the risk of fraud through systems of verifiable trust — It offers self owned & self ruled identities as a tool that can be used in our borderless age of times.

Digital identities could bring a risk however. As anchoring digital identities on the chain (in India for instance) is disrupting identity management, a great amount of concerns is raised about the lack of clear regulation on the process of sharing identity information. Big data is a big privacy issue, no matter how great the benefits & the efficiencies are. Trusting any authority becomes even a bigger pickle when you are a targeted minority in your home country. We might want to rethink implementing new technologies if there are hostile governments that have access to our data. There was an intriguing panel discussion on these data ethics with Emmanuel Letouzé (OPAL project), Rana Novak (Refugee + Migration Predictive Analytics, IBM) and John Jaeger of Hala Systems. Artificial intelligence, algorithms, machine learning and predictive analytics / modelling are more and more used in the handling (and manipulation) of data. It was pointed out by the panel that the Unified Ethical Framer Big Data Analysis is crucial for both big data solutions as well as implications for displaced persons and refugees.

The people

I spent most of the two days talking to people. Refugees, volunteers, startups, data scientists, NGOs, actors. There was a great energy and vibe at the campus, and I felt humble to hear the journeys of some people. I met with two guys from Afghanistan who now live in Paris. There they help other refugees that live on the street , by providing them information, clothing or blankets. I met with Khalid from Sudan, the actor in the video above who was helping Kate of Crisis Classroom. They train volunteers that want to educate refugees that can’t go to school. I made a wonderful fattoush with the team and visitors of their booth. Making a salad together is a simple, fun and educational experience, as you learn new words & cooking customs (how do you get those seeds out of a pomegranate?). I had a great discussion with Navid on the definition of happiness and its relativity. Along the way. I met with Ameer and Louis, two awesome guys who became recently full stack developers at Inclusivelabs with support of Code Your Future volunteers. They worked together with Jack Steadman of Help Refugees on the Directory of Services application. It lists services of case workers that are oriented for refugees, asylum seekers and organisations working with them.

And so it is almost 2019, time for stop making selfish New Year’s resolutions. I really enjoyed giving quick feedback on the flow and Ui of the DOS application during the summit was and hope to help them more coming year. Having said that, ping me if I can help you with similar projects. Because good advice should always be free!

Chris Rotsteeg

Written by

Design lead with 15+ years experience of UX, enterprise & service design of digital solutions for startups, corporates and people

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