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Hack’n’Help Refugees Ideation Meetup

On November 19th we had our first Hack’n’Help meetup where 100+ people gathered to listen to 10 organizations pitching their most pressing issues helping refugees. After the talks, attendees gathered in group and spontaneously started to exchange information, and see how they can work together.

Our next step is a hackathon on November 28th/29th where we’ll go from idea to actual concept and product.

Hack’n’Help is a joint initiative from Stylight and ACM Munich Students. Here is a short video where you can feel the energy.

  • Meeting Suar, a refugee from Kurdistan
      • Studied engineering before fleeing Kurdistan in 2012 for political and safety reasons.
      • He was brought to Turkey and began learning Turkish, but because he was Kurdish, he was not allowed study or receiving working permission.
      • In 2014, he left Turkey by crossing the border on foot, and continued his way through Bulgaria and Hungary, eventually arriving after a harrowing journey on foot in Austria where he continued by car into Germany.
      • In retrospect, what would have made the journey was information as he felt very lost and helpless after arriving in what should have been a safe-haven.
      • When considering his border crossing, he had tried to use GPS on his smartphone but Google maps, for example, doesn’t provide information on where the safest place to cross a border on foot is.  What would have been helpful was information about how to enter a country safely.
      • Additionally, as many refugees are weak, hungry, and dehydrated, information about where to get accessible food and water after entering a “safe” country is critical.
      • All in all, what was most missing for him was information and guidance about what would help him to make a safe passage into a country and what to do after arriving.
  • Nerds4Refugees – Suny Kim
      • https://www.facebook.com/nerds4refugees/
      • https://www.facebook.com/groups/nerds4refugees/
      • What is most needed, at the moment, is a tool to replace Doodle.
      • While Doodle is a great tool, it is not scalable for coordinating volunteers to help refugees in this situation.
      • Common pain points are that is it not easy to use when hundreds of volunteers wish to sign up, that it does not easily work with many shifts, and there are no profiles for volunteers, i.e. the contact information must be submitted in the name field.
      • The Engelsystem is a tool that provides a solution to this problem, and it is good but a bit complicated.  Many organizations want to use Engelsystem, but they need critical adaptations.
      • Flüchtlingen Hilfen in München continues to use Doodle but wants a different solution.
      • Flüchtlingshilfe Erding uses Engelsystem.
      • Nerd4Refugees’ three greatest learnings:
        • Be close to the real thing. Being close makes you realize what people really need.
        • Be fast.  It’s difficult when you are mobilizing hundreds of volunteers, but being fast is crucial.
        • It is enjoyable to do something so useful.
      • Ideas
        • Mobile Helper App
        • Communication tool for helpers
        • App to coordinate rides for people to get to Erding to volunteer
  • Refugees Online e.V. – Volker Werbus
      • www.refugees-online.de
      • www.facebook.com/refugeesonline
      • Founded in December 2014, mission is to provide internet access for refugees.
      • Some say that a lack of internet access for refugees in camps is a “luxury” problem.
      • The spark for the organization came from an existing organization, Refugees Emancipation, a project initiated and organized by asylum seekers.
      • Refugees Online is suffering, however, from how to finance their projects, namely the hardware and internet access.
      • Currently obstacles they are facing include:
        • Setting up internet access is greatly different than setting up internet access in a living room, and in most cases, the camps are former military facilities.
        • Have to Störerhaftung, i.e. an operator that takes responsibility for things that happen on the line, e.g. illegal downloads.
        • Sometimes difficult to get permission from the camp director to install internet.
        • Government agencies are quite slow when processing everything needed to get project going.
        • A lack of people with technical know-how to install the internet.
        • There are not enough sockets to plug in computers and LAN cabling needs to be installed.
        • Even with enough volunteers, they aren’t able to be given keys to camps, and this makes it difficult to get access, and this is often not a priority for camp directors.
      • PFSense is the technology being used.  Every refugee needs to be registered with PFSense.  It is easy to maintain and is stable.  1600 refugees can share 6 DSL lines with 100mb each.
      • Current projects of Refugees Online: computer rooms with computer trainings, setting up WLAN access point im Eimer, projects done jointly with Freifunk (VPN tunneling system to get around Benehmigung, this may not be legal however…)
      • 1000 Euros per month is needed to run these projects.
      • Items on their wish list: money from the government, internet access for all refugees, need to convince people that internet access is not a luxury but essential, need to convince this most of all to political parties, decrease time to receive allowance.
  • Caritas – Johannes Hochholzer
      • https://www.caritas-nah-am-naechsten.de/
      • Willkommen in München is their main platform, their goal is to move towards helping more digitally.  They want to do stuff immediately and don’t want to wait for the government.
      • situations with government → we don’t need to do stuff officially, just immediately
      • The organization really needs help NOW.  Especially with winter coming, there is an urgent need for direct help from volunteers.
      • Who are the players in the refugee crisis?
        • Pros → huge, experienced, structured, but slow
        • People in organizations like Caritas → impulsive, creative, flexible
      • Biggest challenges include: communication with volunteers, coordination of volunteers, e.g. we need 100 helpers tomorrow at this location, making the cause visible, e.g. on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and financing their endeavors (how to crowdfund?)
      • Their goal is to be digital first, which means leveraging the power Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Doodle, and Startnext.  The example was provided of Polizei München using Twitter as their main means of communication with local people.
      • The strengths of Caritas are: straightforward help, a “can do” mentality, and a high degree of innovation and fast results.
      • The weaknesses of Caritas include: a lot of people and teams working individually on similar thing, no overarching connected concepts, and two different worlds with two different languages.
      • Think & do & think: we, being digital, will have a key role in innovation, communication and speed; we should see the pros as partners (they are slow, but they come with experience, substance, and resources); we can do better when we connect– talk directly with refugees.
      • Willkommen in München , being a network of organizations (69 orgs), deems it to be high complexity to connect all organizations.
      • In order to effectively collect donations, it is very important to communicate needs, e.g. a shelter needs X number of sleeping mats.
      • Organizations are currently facing huge work overload.
      • What should we be considering when tackling a problem?
        • There is already a solution, it just may not be digital.
        • Usability — does the solution reach the citizens?
        • Translation: we need nerds to join social work.
      • What could make the difference?
        • Take the time you need, but get something going– think about going beta in the meantime.
        • Long term volunteering / long-term support: We have people coming to Germany who want to stay; therefore, we need solutions for people who want to stay.
        • You’re not the only one — this is not about a market, but about people.
  • Refugees on Rails – Ferdi
      • http://refugeesonrails.org/
      • It is not uncommon for a refugee to be in transit for months and years without a computer, and we are in a day and age in which it is very debilitating to not only be without internet but also without a computer.
      • At the same time, we have lack of talent in tech at the moment, so why don’t we utilize the situation to train refugees in these shortage areas?  After all coding and working on a website, doesn’t discriminate on passports.
      • Refugees on Rails was inspired by what Ruby on Rails has done for coding.
      • Ruby is a marketable skill and could get refugees into job market quickly.  This idea is what inspired the Refugee Code School with the mission: “Our aim is to help refugees to build and expand their qualification as software developers and provide them the opportunity to work with startups and tech companies.”
      • The general idea is that refugees become students at the school to learn IT skills and then they are matched with employers who are looking to hire people with those certain set of IT skills.  However, it is not just the case of having the right skill set; there also soft skills to be taught and networks to be built.
      • “What you know” + “Who you know” = A brighter future for refugees.
      • In this process, having a mentor is important for the students, and therefore, the organization can always use more mentors.
      • Refugees on Rails can also always use more laptops.
      • The course uses online open-source learning programs, and they identify three different levels of students based on IT-knowledge, and the class takes three months ending in a demo day.
      • Key resources:
        • time, skills, mentorship, laptops, spaces, money
        • employers: IT companies, SME’s in need, startups, large employers, NGO’s incubators, own businesses
      • What they need:
        • Three primary roles: people working to coordinate volunteers, student liaisons, employer panel.
  • Kiron University
      • https://kiron.university/
      • Kiron University’s mission is to provide world-class education for refugees.
      • Many reasons refugees are prohibited from studying, including lack of documentation and financial reasons.
      • Kiron’s mission is to empower many refugees to live a self-determined life by transforming them to students.
      • Why online courses?  This allows people to study, and they are not bounded to a place.  They don’t have to pay and can study even if still fleeing.  The online courses are a program of two years.
      • The emPower program provides a student with contact to a buddy, lecturer, and mentor.  There is often a shortage of buddies.
      • With sharp increases in enrollment, they realize their processes are not so scalable and there is a lot of work that needs to be made faster and easier.
      • The biggest pain point for Kiron at the moment is not having a centralized and digital database for all their information; therefore, they require a process that makes it easier to have all information together, e.g. student information, ideally student profiles.
  • Campus for Change e.V. – Christian Heise
      • http://www.campus4change.org/
      • Student organization founded in 2009, has projects around the world, and it exists for people with interesting ideas for social projects.
      • In Munich, there is currently a mentoring project for refugees.
      • Considerations at the beginning of the project: how do people live here? do they really take part of our society?
      • What they found out is that refugees usually live together in large groups and don’t know how to behave in this culture, e.g. buying ticket for subway, going to hospital.
      • Project is about people and interest and needs, which means building tandems, a relationship between student and refugee, mentor and mentee.
      • The mentee is the focus of project, so the needs of the refugee are always the most important interest, and the projects intends to build these 1:1 personal relationships.
      • It is especially important for young people to have a stable contact person, so the relationships should be both stable and have mentors and mentees of similar ages.
      • Mentors spend time with mentees, 3-4 hours per week, and the activities are based on needs of the mentee, e.g. learn german, help in school.
      • Obstacles faced in this project include:
        • Finding an experienced project partner.  How to connect to refugees, where to go and how to build stable relationships.  Organizations are often very reluctant to work with new concepts; therefore, it is difficult for organizations to work with their project.
        • Project funding.  How can we finance?  Usually have to find private person and company to donate, but only if issuing contribution receipts, but these cannot be issued to private people.
        • Recruitment of students.  The project aims to create relationships not for just one day or once a month, and thus it is looking for reliable students.  This ends of being a big problem because it is incredibly time-consuming to pre-interview and interview people (45 minutes for every person).  It took a month to go through candidates, and only 2-4 people were selected in the end.  This is still an important process though because it is important to get to know people you are working with.  The worst part is to reject people because it is hard to reject people who really want to help but aren’t right fit.
        • Matching of tandems.  They don’t know what the best way to match mentors and mentees is.  “Speed-dating”, doing group activities, and allowing the relationships to form themselves were suggested; however, these did not work well in practice.
        • Preparing student mentors.  This preparation wasn’t considered at beginning, and they soon realized it is important to not start without preparing students because a lot of different (and often expected) situations can arise, communication gaps for example, and therefore, they need 6 weeks to train mentors.
  • Integreat-App – Martin Schrimpf, Daniel Kehne
      • https://github.com/Integreat/app
      • Trying to answer the big question: how do we get info from organizations to refugees?
      • The thought behind the project: info is almost always printed on papers, which is both hard to maintain and hard to distribute info, and not all refugees housed in one camp.  When refugees are distributed around town, it is then difficult to give exactly and all info refugees need.  There is a 50-page guide to inform the refugees on the longterm about integration and how to get information.  They also found out that many refugees have smartphones.
      • Integreat is a core team of about 13 people, and the release of the app is taking place in Augsburg on Thursday, November 26.
      • The project is open source since one week, and they look forward to working on community approach.
      • The technical approach involves uses wordpress as a CMS and using their API to get information on the app.  Keeping it digital makes it easier for camp organizers as well.
      • Community needs to built: more translators, more locations, more developers.
  • HORIZONT-Perspektive Vielfalt – Robert Urban
      • Interested in legal issues surrounding hiring refugees at companies in Germany.
      • They went to refugees and talked to refugees and talked to orgs.  They also talked with companies that could potentially hire refugees.
      • Key insights:
        • Everybody wants to work, and there exist different ways to employee refugees but employers don’t know how.
        • The legal situation is generally very complex and unclear.
        • Refugees don’t know about existing projects that could be of service to them.
      • The current situation is that there is a disconnect between motivated refugees “stuck” in accommodations and companies and leisure clubs which would be of interest for them, and it is difficult to bridge this gap because the sites are often only in German and English.
      • Step 1: Terminals, places where refugees can sign up.
      • Step 2: Make profiles, including names, skills, and background.
      • Step 3: Matching between organizations (companies and leisure organizations) and refugees.
      • prototype: live demo
      • A key advantages of this platform is that it will speak the languages of all refugees, and the core values are understanding refugees, existing network with partners, and small- and medium-sized companies.
  • Chatling – Benjamin Harr
      • https://marvelapp.com/1fgh50j
      • https://www.dropbox.com/s/cqeg026evy0i9de/20151118_Chatling_hacknhelp_download.pdf?dl=0
      • https://chatling.slack.com/
      • Why?  Linguistic issues stemming from different languages is a huge problem in the refugee crisis at the moment.
      • Chatling believes that integration originates from the ability to communicate, and therefore, they want to provide a basic communication tool to provide a first linguistic contact between cultures.
      • How?  The approach is a messaging app, two people chat on one device.  Each person sees the whole conversation history in his or her own language, but the language can be switched to facilitate learning of the local language by the refugee.
      • Biggest problem is that Google translate is sometimes inaccurate; therefore, there is a “try again” button the ask for a different and simpler way to phrase a message.
      • Further development includes improving existing chat translation, spreading Chatling to other countries, and supporting refugees learning German.
  • Roots to Refugees: Integration made easy
    • Vision: Social online community, one stop platform that connects refugees
    • Core problem: Many locals do not get active because there is no easy and individual way to help.
    • Solution: Integration network roots to refugees.
    • MVP: Database of refugees, locals and organization that later enables one another to communicate.
    • Functions: Start social community by connecting people N:N.
    • Organizations, refugees and locals create individual profiles by logging in with Facebook.
    • Everyone can see, create or participate in events that any member can initiate.
    • Members can blog about their activities and share it with others and in social networks.
    • Afterwards, an individual matching function is used to connect people 1:1, like a buddy program.

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