There is no such thing as a refugee crisis, there is only a hospitality crisis, explains Josephine Goube, CEO of Techfugees.

Day 1, session 1 at SXSW 2018 and we’re straight into the big stuff.

Josephine goes on to explain how empowering displaced people through technology is the best way to overcome this hospitality crisis, and sets about outlining what this looks like.

Techfugees started out as a Facebook post by TechCrunch Editor-at-large Mike Butcher and grew into a movement and non-profit spread across five continents which aims to use tech to help the displaced.

Dismayed at the abundance of talk but lack of action, Butcher called upon the tech community to come together to hack the problem. Josephine is one of 18,000 people who responded.

There are 65M refugees across the world. The conventional approach to helping these people has been a centralised one, and it has nearly always focused on donations. Decentralised tech solutions have opened up a multitude of ways to improve the lives of displaced people, beyond simply giving them money.

One of the main learnings from the session is how much people who’ve been forced to leave their countries have to offer, how technology can be used to bring people together, and how mutually beneficial commercial opportunities arise out of these situations.

A great example of this is NaTakallam (“we speak” in Arabic). The Syrian conflict has triggered the worst refugee crisis of our time. Despite fleeing the violence, refugees and displaced persons are often unable to work in their host countries. NaTakallam changes this reality by leveraging the gig economy and connecting language learners around the world with displaced persons for Arabic practice over Skype.

Pay a displaced person to learn Arabic over Skype! Simple, empowering and useful.

Not all solutions need to be built on exchanges of value. Often, the most pressing need for refugees is simple information. Another Techfugees affiliated initiative, this time in Serbia, helps people stay in contact with family and loved ones via wifi pumped out of rucksacks worn by volunteers.

For people who aren’t as fortunate to know where their loved ones are, Refuite has developed a tool that enables people to tag their location and search a database spanning 17 countries refugees to reunite families and friends.

Importantly, the best solutions to such problems involve the people they’re designed to help. ReDI School is a great example of an organisation teaching displaced people new skills that they can then put to use helping people in similar situations.

Fascinating and inspiring way to kick things off.


Full coverage of SXSW 2018:

SXSW Day 2: Google as the Translator Between Humans and Machines.

SXSW Day 3: What Does the Internet Look Like Without Screens?

SXSW Day 4: Are Driverless Cars Really a Thing?

We Love Ester Perel.