Why there is a need for mission-driven communities in humanitarian work

When I started the journey of a social enterprise nearly 1.5 years ago, I was at the state of tabula rasa about the mission, solutions and the ecosystem. Following the 2016 Mediterranean refugee crisis, the community of entrepreneurs was on hype, startups emerging in Europe, USA and nearby countries that host the largest portion of forcibly displaced. Most ideas revolved around ubiquitous technology to solve the physical displacement problem, because policy solutions were taking too long, and political will was absent.

And I was excited! But as I went deeper into a research, I encountered even more complex problem —in reality, there were too many efforts, duplicating and competing with each other at times, disconnected from the policy direction and work of the UN and more importantly from each other.

This problem is not unique for the refugee crisis community. Forgive me, colleagues, but international development and humanitarian response — hungry for innovation — is driven by a fad. Everyone is an “AI”, everyone is a “blockchain’, yet we operate in a much more complex environment for implementation of tech solutions on the ground. Who is to sort things out? How to ensure, those social startups — the aspirational private sector effort in reality of humanitarian crisis — do what the private sector does best… ‘compete’ to create the best-fit solutions, yet support and multiply each others’ efforts for a unified social mission.

Our team at Techfugees Summit, 2018

This is what different and unique about Techfugees. They ‘sort things out for us’. It is a place where startups navigating the risky early-stage journeys, learn about others, what works and what does not work, unite efforts and exchange.

This year we were lucky to receive a recognition in the Techfugees employment challenge, and I am inspired to write a reflection, how much more than the recognition, we gained from being in the mission-driven community.

  1. I have met incredible founders and startups with similar mission ‘connecting refugees to digital work’. We exchanged about our competitive advantages and concepts, business models, and remain to be friends and partners, although at times probably are chasing the same clients. It is OK, we keep each other ‘on toes’. :)
  2. I was blessed to prototype our tech solution with the partner startup Re:Coded Team that I have met at the summit last year. This incredible support, so much needed at the earliest stage of any tech development, is probably the reason we are still out there. :)
  3. Which led to forming an actual founding team! And partnerships on the ground, where the Re: coded alumni work and continue to support us.
  4. Connections with tech accelerators, incredible advisors and continuous support, which is probably another reason we are still out there.

International development should nourish the enterprises with the concept of the mission-driven startup community across different causes. They are so rare. While much of the businesses unite in networks with the mission such as Cash Learning partnership, GSMA or Business Call to Action, there is still very little attention to startups. But often startups, agile and lean, are the birthplace for a true innovation in the most complex contexts and environments. Every recognition in such a risky and challenging journey counts!

More to come! Merci!

Karina