My initial reactions to Techfugees


Image was lifted from @asalvaire ‘s Twitter stream I hope they don’t mind.

I spent 2 December 2015 at the Techfugees conference in London, UK. I was wearing my Standby Task Force hat (mostly).

These are my instant reactions on the train back home.

1. Wow.

There is a lot going on. Amazing energy, talent and thought going into all sorts of innovative solutions. It was an amazing, invigorating, mind-numbing day.

2. This is a complex situation.

Now I know that’s a statement of the blindingly obvious but we have very fluid flows of refugees from a range of different countries entering Europe by very changeable routes and then making their way around in countries they know little about before claiming asylum in potentially other countries. Each country has its own state and civil society structures, cultural attitudes and legal complexities. As well as languages. And then there’s the politics. And this is just to get people to the stage of claiming asylum. If they are accepted as refugees they face, potentially, years of challenges such as dealing with trauma, learning a new language, understanding a new culture, integrating into their new communities on top of the usual stuff people want to to, falling in love, raising familes, earning money, having a laugh.

The app that fixes that is going to be very impressive.

3. There is an urgent need to make it easy for people (and let;s just start with refugee agencies) to be able to work out what support and help is available to whom and where. This is not really a technical issue it just needs a bunch of people to focus on gathering and presenting the data (well not just that but that is a necessary task).

4. Facebook and WhatsApp are already being used for an amazing amount of coordination by refugees (and their friends and family) themselves. Let’s not reinvent the wheel. Let’s add gears and steering.

5. In the UK let’s not lose sight of the fact that one fundamental underlying problem is the shortage of affordable housing. Let’s build more houses.

6. From a Standby Task Force perspective Google Hub Info looks utterly awesome. It goes on the long list of things I want to play with (but very near the top).

7. We frame refugees as a problem (it’s a crisis haven’t you heard?). And by definition refugees are people fleeing persecution. We heard from the excellent Hassan today that he would never have left Syria if it was safe. But refugees are also an opportunity, people with skills, ideas, energy. Imagine if we could see them as an opportunity for our communities, and our economies.


8. I really like spending time with geeks and looking at these problems as service design issues. I think that’s a useful way to think about things.

But the politics matters too.

9. There are many potential users of the potential and actual projects that are spinning out here. We need to make sure we stay close to the users. Which is easier said than done when so many of them are constantly moving.

10. People are amazing.

That is all.

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