Since founding the Techfugees non-profit two years ago, I’ve come acutely aware off the huge problems refugees face. With over 65 million refugees globally (according to the UN), and their ranks being swelled considerably by the civil war in Syria, it became clear to me that any solutions might help refugees would have to be scalable. Scaling solutions to problems is what the tech industry does, which is why Techfugees acts as a bridge between the tech community and the needs of refugees and refugees NGOs.
And that bridge is gradually getting closer.
Not only are individuals in the tech community getting involved, creating many open-sources projects, but private-sector tech startups are bringing their amazing solutions to these problems. I mean, if you can get your laundry done and delivered to your door, or order food or a limo with a smartphone, how transformational would it be to teach a refugee child the language of their host country, or help them integrate into a new country faster? Refugees have also been creating their own tech projects themselves, from the Syrian refugee answer to Etsy, Sharqi, to the app to help refugees navigate German bureaucracy. In Australia, a Techfugees hackathon helped give life to RefugeeTalent, a platform built by and for recently arrived refugees, and Refuhelp in France (below).
That’s why a new initiative from Unbabel, the Lisbon-based and Y Combinator-backed startup that combines machine learning with crowdsourced human translations, is so great.
Vasco Pedro, CEO and co-founder, has now launched Unbabel.org, a non-profit portal providing the company’s high-quality translation services to NGOs and charities free of charge. This will aim to remove language barriers and provide seamless communication for refugees worldwide.
Unbabel.org says it is already working with a number of organizations, including SPEAK which assists migrants in acclimating to their new community.
The startup has also partnering with Universidad Europa (Madrid) professors leading the Bachelor’s Degree program in Translation and Interpreting, who work with organizations such as UNICEF. By combining the power of students enrolled in the program with the technology provided by Unbabel.org, this initiative can be scaled to provide increased translations.
Here’s a short video about the initiative:
The company is now actively seeking additional charities and NGOs to partner with in order to provide necessary translation services to refugees, from helping them translate official documents to receive proper status, to aiding them in translating CVs to the local language to help with their job search.
Luckily Unbabel is not the only tech startup offering their services to refugees and refugee NGOs.
Babbel, another language startup out of Berlin, has donated courses budgeted at over €1M for refugee projects. And it’s also giving Babbel out for free to various initiatives, such as organizing in-house training for voluntary language teachers in refugee homes. In fact, it’s linguists have written up some great tips for people who want to help refugees learn languages in a series.
In the US, bigger companies like Airbnb have stepped up to the plate to allow hosts to join an Airbnb community who are providing free accommodation to those in need, enabling them to resettle their lives.
Meanwhile, ride-tracking startup Rydar is now offering any refugee contacting them through the app to use their service free for one year, giving them the opportunity to save money on ride-sharing services.
Techfugees has been gradually compiling a database of tech resources in this area, which is hope to turn into a sort of ‘CrunchBase for Refugee technology‘. But to give you a flavour, here are just a few of the other generous tech startups trying to aid refugees.
Sharood is offering to connect the refugees community to a place by sharing meals.
Funzi is a mobile learning startup geared specifically to emerging markets where refugees are typically located.
SolidarityApp allows you to donate to refugee causes when you download mobile games.
Point93, which helps people open online stores on Shopify, are donating their services free to refugees.
The telemedicine company Doxy.me are providing their platform for refugees to use for free through a project called HealthPath.
Redi-School is free of charge and teaching refugees in Berlin to code
London-based startup Bussu offers Premium Membership open to refugees who apply here.
Esri provides NGOs access to their mapping software.
There are of course many other tech companies doing good work in this area.
In a future separate post, I will be covering many of the specific tech initiatives to help refugees that have sprung up over the last couple of years.
Picture: Getty Images