Technology for refugees: Norwegians help the Techfugees initiative

Photo courtesy of Techfugees
The organizers of the Techfugees Hackathon.

John Sperryn
Nordic Startup Bits

It was perhaps significant that the Oslo Innovation Week (OIW) five-day series of events in October was preceded by a 48-hour Techfugees hackathon, where more than one hundred data scientists, engineers, user experience designers, and entrepreneurs united in teams to build prototypes alongside refugees and find solutions to enable better integration into Norwegian society.

Techfugees hackathon
Techfugees is a social enterprise and has been a fast-growing global community since its inception one year ago. Currently there is a network of more than 15,000 innovators and engineers building technology to meet the needs of refugees. In this short space of time, more than 27 global chapters and hundreds of ongoing projects have been developed.

The community, led by Mike Butcher of Techcrunch fame, explained before the final pitching that the non-profit organization is focused on providing technology and expert help for refugees. Techfugee’s volunteers work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and are supported by donations and key partnerships. The focus is on “hacking” towards simple design, agile development, and creative solutions. Techfugee’s T5 program highlights five main focus areas with dedicated programs for infrastructure, education, identity, health, and inclusion.

Strategic partners, such as Schibsted Media Group, and the generosity of local event partners Finn.no, Katapult Norway, and UT: Studentbyrå in the case of Oslo are critical enablers for the growth of the movement.

From the 12 teams that pitched that night with their solutions ranging from online platforms for matching skilled refugees to jobs to chatbots designed to help refugees find information about social activities and local services, the final three teams were selected to pitch the following morning, shortly before the official opening of OIW.

Learning from different cultures
Oct. 17 was the final chance for three finalist teams to impress the judges with their solutions.

First to go was SkiwoGo (skiwo.com), “real interpreters on demand, any time” with the solution to connect volunteer interpreters in real time via a video call to help overcome the initial language barriers faced by refugees.

Heart-to-Heart was the second team to pitch. They created an app for pregnant women, a kind of personal assistant that they can chat with and that can help schedule nursing appointments and give extra information and reassurance. It was an artificial intelligent (AI) approach to solve the problem of making more personalized information available at the right time, versus having to scan whole websites often in the local language.

The final (and winning) team was KomInn, which is an online platform focused on learning language. After the simple sign-up registration, individuals and families can get together for dinners to socialize and learn the language in a relaxed atmosphere.

More detailed information about the event and the finalists can be found at techfugees.com/events/techfugees-oslo-hackathon.

Energy and drive in innovation
Complacency is a risk for such a wealthy and advanced economy as Norway, but leaders are taking the current and future challenges seriously. With so much global economic instability, uncertainty, and political and social unrest, Norway has taken a positive approach to welcoming refugees and immigrants. It is these new arrivals who often have the greater need and desire to achieve in their new surroundings. They bring with them passion and new skills and they have the opportunity to revolutionize innovation, perhaps by bringing a more frugal mindset to solutions, based on their previous experiences in making solutions with fewer resources.

This article was originally published on Nordic Startup Bits. View the complete article at www.nordicstartupbits.com/2016/11/01/61934.

This article also appeared in the Dec. 30, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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