How Startups and Tech Are Helping Refugees and Immigrants
Isadora Teich wrote this article
According to the Pew Research Center, more than a million immigrants move to the US every year. In addition,
About 65% of international migration globally is due to labor migration. Often these workers are exploited by large industries such as agriculture and have little legal protection or guidance.
Also, globally, human migration and displacement are proving to be some of the largest challenges in modern times. At the end of 2020, more than 80 million people had been displaced. In 2021, the US government has planned to accept 15,000 refugees, while holding over 20,000 people in ICE detention centers.
Here is how startups and tech creators are stepping in to help some of the world’s most vulnerable (and brave) individuals.
The Startup Helping US Immigrants Navigate the US Financial System
Between credit scores, countless banks with countless different rules, different types of savings accounts, stocks, taxes, and even mobile banking options, it’s no wonder that a lot of Americans struggle with financial literacy.
Data shows that about half of Americans are financially anxious and don’t know how to take control of their financial situation.
Now, imagine trying to cope with that in a new country with completely different rules and laws from your own, possibly in a language that may be new to you.
Many bad actors attempt to take advantage of those in situations like these with scams. This is where fintech and startups are stepping in to help.
MAJORITY is a startup that is relatively new, at 2 years old. It offers services specifically tailored to immigrants.
For only $5 a month, MAJORITY users get a bank account with no overdraft fees or minimums, a Visa prepaid card, low-cost international phone calls, and instant free international money transfers. Users also have access to 55,000 US ATMS through MAJORITY partner Sutton Bank.
According to CEO and founder Magnus Larsson:
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you’re an immigrant, you share a set of values. You’re ambitious. You’re hard-working. And you want a better life. That’s what we’re building with our brand.”
Larsson himself is a Swedish immigrant who moved to the US.
Despite speaking English, he found navigating the US financial system quite difficult. He says his own struggles inspired him to create MAJORITY.
“I come from Sweden, a rich country. I speak fairly good English. And still, I faced a lot of issues. I couldn’t imagine the problems people from other countries faced. I saw the need to build something that solves the problems you have when you’re not from the country you’re trying to succeed in.”
Other Apps That Help Migrants, Refugees, and Immigrants In The US
For years, undocumented persons in the US have been using the Notifica app to alert their support network if they are captured in an ICE raid or otherwise detained. Currently, there are an estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the US.
Many people end up in this situation as the legal channels for becoming a legitimate resident of the US are not easy to access for those escaping extreme poverty, violence, or disaster.
One big barrier for many refugees discussed in this post is their lack of identity documentation, which some tech companies are looking to fix with blockchain technology.
Also, due to the limits the US sets on how many refugees it accepts yearly, the majority of even proven refugees have no legal option on a humanitarian basis.
Almost everyone has heard of Duolingo, but did you know it’s one of the most popular apps amongst refugees and immigrants worldwide?
Duolingo actually partners with the International Rescue Committee and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to help refugees access education and learn the language in their new country.
For example, in Sweden, the most popular language learned on Duolingo is Swedish, signifying that it is mostly being used by immigrants and refugees seeking to learn the language in their new home.
A similar trend can be seen in the US, where English is the second most popular language amongst Duolingo learners.
The App Helping Kabul Residents Navigate The Taliban Takeover
Ehtasab is a crowd-sourced app similar to Citizen in the US, that has been in operation for three years working to keep the residents of Kabul safe and informed.
It prompts locals to report incidents from around the city including crime, infrastructure failure, planned demonstrations, and terrorist attacks. These reports are then founded by Ehtasab’s security team.
Ehtasab was founded by 26-year-old Afghanistan-born Sara Wahedi, who settled in Canada with her family as a child under an Asylum visa. She is currently leading a team of escaped Kabul staffers in New York City while she pursues dual degrees in human rights and data science at Colombia University. She told CNN Business:
“The main focus has been, obviously, providing reports that affect Afghans’ access to food, access to banks, access to movement. We try to mitigate as much anxiety in day-to-day life as best as we can in the current situation.”
Wahedi was inspired to create Ehtasab after surviving suicide bombings while walking home from work while living in Kabul in 2018. This led to destruction in the streets and a wide variety of other issues. She said:
“I was really confused by the fact that there was no platform … where you could find verified, real-time information about what was going on in the city, especially a city which is consistently reeling with instability,”
Now, with the Taliban takeover, the future of the app is uncertain. The Taliban might restrict internet use altogether and Ehtasab can no longer rely on local police reports. Regardless, Wahedi is hoping to find ways to expand it to help people in more places within and outside Afghanistan.
Apps Designed To Help Syrian Refugees
More than 1 million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon alone since the conflict began. Today, it is the world’s largest displacement crisis, with more than 13 million people, over half of Syria’s population, having been forcibly displaced.
Of course, many of these people are suffering from PTSD and other mental health disorders, but this need is largely being unmet. This is where Silicon Valley startup X2AI has stepped in. They have created Karim, an AI chatbot that speaks with refugees in Arabic to help improve their emotional state.
In order to get Karim into the hands of refugees and aid workers, X2AI has teamed up with a non-governmental organization called Field Innovation Team (FIT). They deliver tech-enabled disaster relief.
Services Advisor is an app available in Turkey and Jordan, where some of the world’s largest populations of Syrian refugees live. It allows them to find humanitarian services close to them, including shelter, food, education, and healthcare. Shifra is another app that helps these refugees access sexual and reproductive healthcare.
In The Future, Will Blockchain Be Used To Help Refugees?
According to the World Bank, 1 billion people worldwide have no proof of their identity. This is a literal mass identity crisis and can be a barrier to people receiving the services and care they need. Multiple governments and private organizations have been working for years to try and address this issue and many think that blockchain is the solution.
One company working to address this issue via blockchain is Everest, which wants to streamline and make a permanent easily accessible digital ledger of personal information via database and app. Here is how they describe themselves:
Everest is a platform and ecosystem that empowers users & businesses to build the future. Through the use of digital identities, electronic wallets, document management, a regulated stable coin; and a fast, cost-effective ledger, users and businesses can verifiably engage in any transaction – all more transparently, fairer, and more economically than ever before.
They say that their platform can be used in humanitarian efforts in 3 key ways:
1. It offers displaced people a biometric identity that cannot be stolen or lost, even in the event of disasters.
2. It links identity with a digital wallet that users can access.
3. It offers family wallets that solve complex custody challenges.
Essentially, it uses blockchain technology so people can always prove their identity, access any resources they already have, and keep their information organized.
In the face of global turmoil, a lot of startups, innovators, and tech companies are rising to the challenge to help those in need. In the US and abroad, many people need aid.
Hopefully, technology can continue to be applied to help the most vulnerable people around the world.
About ChopDawg.com: Since 2009, we have helped create 350+ next-generation apps for startups, Fortune 500s, growing businesses, and non-profits from around the globe. Think Partner, Not Agency.
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