The Celo Blog
Published in

The Celo Blog

How to Design for All: Stories from Refugees in Tanzania

Your life is outside of your control. You can’t hold a job. You aren’t allowed to own a phone number. You’re forbidden from moving outside a four square mile plot of land. Even the food you eat is dictated — a basket of five basic ingredients that are given to you and rarely changes.

What I’m describing is not a dystopian fiction but rather the lived reality of millions of people around the world in refugee camps. UNHCR estimates that there are a record high 68.5M people globally who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. About a quarter live in managed settlements where food and aid are provided, but often at the cost of personal freedom.

Life is not good. It is not bad. It’s just living — there is no other way.”

Kaburu, Congolese Refugee

In the right context, our technology has the potential to give agency to those who live on the margins. This aligns with our core tenets: we believe that to design a truly inclusive financial solution, you must begin by serving those who need it the most. So in order to bring us closer to understanding what life in a refugee camp is like, we needed to go and speak to people face-to-face.

In February, Celo sent a team that included a software engineer, a business lead, and an interaction designer to Nyarugusu, a refugee camp housing over 150,000 Congolese and Burundian refugees. We sat down one-on-one with 26 people from all ages, genders, and backgrounds in a series of hour-long interviews.

Each person shared their stories — their pasts, their daily routines, and their hopes and dreams. And while each story is unique, they are all connected by a spirit of resilience. Living in a refugee camp is hard, but despite the challenges, each person has found a way to build a life despite difficult circumstances. At Celo we are inspired by these stories. They don’t just motivate us, they also change how we work and what we build.

The Insights:

Using a process called synthesis, the Celo research team sat down each evening to write all of the key quotes and observations from the day’s stories onto a collection of colorful post-it notes. We hung these post-its on the walls and then we discussed and organized ideas until several key insights emerged. These insights have already impacted Celo. We’ve made several changes to our product roadmap in order to make sure that what we’re building is resonant to the needs of users.

Below, we share our top four research insights with you from our week of research in Nyarugusu.



Celo is a carbon-negative, L1 protocol with a rich ecosystem of global partners building Web3, mobile-first applications to create a more accessible and inclusive global financial system. Visit to learn more about the Celo community, contributors, and technology.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store