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June 03, 2020
[Interview] Supporting displaced people: Techfugees

We recently learned about a tech community with a mission to respond to the needs of refugees and we had to meet them. Techfugees is an impact driven global organisation nurturing a sustainable ecosystem of tech solutions, supporting the inclusion of displaced people. They do so, through several actions, mainly: Tech4Women, Tech4Refugees and the Basefugees initiatives

We met with Josephine Goube, CEO in Techfugees to get to know more about the organisation and the way they support refugees. We were fascinated by their work and determination and we have decided to support them. /Data and the Developer Economics Community will be donating $0.10 for every developer who completes the Q2 2020 Developer Economics survey. If you are a developer yourself make sure you take the Developer Economics survey and help us raise $1,900 for Techfugees.

You can also support Techfugees with donations or by volunteering your tech skills. Learn more directly from the team, here.

How did Techfugees come to life? What was the grand breaking event that inspired you to found this organization?

Founded in 2015, Techfugees was born out of the fact that 93% of displaced people who arrived on the shores of Europe owned a smartphone and 87% of displaced people live in an area of 2/3G coverage. We saw that they did no longer rely on information & help provided by NGOs solely, but a lot more from social media networks, and so we started building mobile tech that could be useful to them.


What would you say has been the biggest challenge for you and your beneficiaries?

Lack of funding and a hostile environment have been very challenging for us!   There are feelings that have been building up over the years against displaced people. The fact that we want to bring technology to refugees has been faced with disbelief, and has been disregarded as being pointless. Comments such as “They don’t have phones” or “they first need water and food” tells us a lot about how the use of sensational media coverage has made it difficult for citizens to learn the real facts… One of them being that a lot of displaced people use ⅓ of their budget on phone data and that mental health shows significant improvement when one is offered the possibility to stay in touch with loved ones.


In what ways can technology and innovation help displaced people? 

For people that are very constrained by space and time (borders, camps, …), digital technologies are not only breaking isolation but they also are an opportunity to break those very restrictions. People must have felt it through lockdown situations: it is amazing how much can be done digitally! Similarly, for displaced people, the internet and smartphones and the digital economy is a revolution.


Techfugees take on various projects to help refugees. Which one would you say has been the most impactful and why? What kind of projects are you currently running?

There are not one but many projects that I would like to mention. As with anything related to the internet and networked technologies,  the more projects you run, the greater the impact of what you do! . I will share one of the most illustrative examples. Refugee.info, is a project coming out of our first hackathon in London 2015. Its mission is to deliver information to refugees and it had done so for more than a million displaced people since 2015. What Refugee.info did to become so successful at providing the service was to iterate on technology with the feedback of NGOs & refugees on the ground. Also, they started collaborating with another #Tech4refugees project coming out of a hack – Natakallam – an online language learning service delivered by refugees who did the translation of their app. In this way, not only did Refugee.info end up delivering information to refugees, they ended up supporting refugee translators with their work.

This one simple example shows you two things: the fact that when more technology projects supporting refugees collaborate they are more impactful, and that the best projects integrate refugees within their own teams to deepen their impact. 


We see that hackathons are the heart of your organization’s activities. How many have you organized so far, are these created for misplaced people only? Any upcoming hackathon?

We have organised more than 30+ hackathons bringing displaced people and locals around the world, since 2015. One in four participants in those networking and creation spaces had a refugee background. The aim of these hacks are mainly educational and to provide networking opportunities, more than building the next big thing. Having said that, annual rounds of catch up with past #tech4refugees project participants enabled us to gather lots of data about their needs over time and identify some interesting insights and trends.. From the data gathered, we were able  to measure the impact of  Techfugees’ support in our hackathons participants’ lives.t Our hackathons teams had a higher 1-year survival rate, from 16% up to 33%, demonstrating that post-hack support is impactful and makes a solid difference.


How has the coronavirus situation affected the refugee community and your organization in particular?

In March 2020, Techfugees launched its Data Hub as a response to the Covid-19 outbreak. The Data Hub, brings together displaced persons, NGOs, members of civil society and innovators from all over the world, to map the impact of Covid-19 on displaced communities and source existing solutions to help mitigate them. The data is freely available on: http://bit.ly/covidrefugees. For us in Techfugees, it is important to listen to displaced people and take into consideration their situation and experiences. As a result, and as we saw more data coming in, we launched Techfugees Live Sessions! A series of online bi-monthly talks that provides regional and local updates on how communities are coping with the situation and what tech solutions are currently being used by these communities. 

Short Bio: Graduate from Sciences Po Paris and the London School of Economics, Josephine has been the CEO of Techfugees and its worldwide chapters since 2015. She is also a board member of the Norwegian Refugee Council and an informal expert alongside the European Commission about migration issues. Nominated as one of the top “30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs” by Forbes in 2016, 2017 and 2018, in 2017 she was honoured as “Digital Women” of the year in France. From 2012 to 2016, Josephine was Migreat’s partnerships manager, a London startup specialized in applying for visas for Europe.

Looking to find out more about how NGO’s are contributing to the tech environment? Read our interview with CodeYourFuture.


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