‘Wealth of tech talent’ offers refugees path to resettlement, says charity chief

·3 min read

The head of a charity that works to help refugees pursue a career in the tech world has praised the “wealth of talent” among displaced communities.

Techfugees is a non-profit organisation where volunteers collaborate with, mentor, and teach refugees to utilise their digital skills and earn significant roles in the progression of innovative tech-based projects – aiming to “provide a pathway for resettlement and safety”.

Chief executive Raj Burman said the charity, set up in 2015 on the back of the Syrian refugee crisis, helps to “empower” displaced people around the world who have “traumatic and emotional” stories.

“What we want to show is there is an incredible wealth of human talent… rather than paint refugees as a fear or threat, (we want) to really see the opportunity of human talent that is undiscovered and untapped,” the 56-year-old from Brighton told the PA news agency.

“So that’s what we’re doing – giving them the right role, guiding them, connecting them to opportunities, but then empowering them (so) that they feel included in society, and they have a voice and they can participate in the digital economy.

“It’s incredibly rewarding… (we) don’t see people as refugees, (we) see them as humans and talented individuals who can actually support economic recovery, which is so needed right now.”

Headshot of Raj Burman
Raj Burman was appointed CEO of Techfugees in November 2020 (Techfugees)

Techfugees works in collaboration with Google and online course-provider Coursera to award funded scholarships for certifications to “support their job readiness”.

Mr Burman said the organisation has helped more than 2,000 displaced people so far and aims to connect 1.2 million more to ongoing Techfugees projects over the next three years.

“(Refugees) have tenacity and the perseverance because of the journey they’ve gone through,” Mr Burman added.

“They don’t sit still, there’s a massive appetite to learn – they want to be honourable, they want to support their communities and share knowledge… and that’s a spirit that really energises me to wake up in the morning.

“We’re suffering a labour shortage in the digital sector and we’re bridging that with talent.”

Working with camps in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and Lebanon, Techfugees has touchpoints across 40 countries – including a UK office in London – giving refugee camps the support and chance to work in tech and develop their skillset.

Techfugees worker sat at laptop
Techfugees hosted their first Africa hackathon in Nairobi in 2019 (Techfugees)

“To give you a practical example: at the height of the Covid crisis last year, our team in Kenya who are resident in the Kakuma Kalobeyei refugee camp, they worked with refugees to look at solutions to accelerate the eHealth electronic alerts when Covid outbreaks (occur) in the camp,” Mr Burman explained.

“So they worked with The Kenya Trust, they pulled in Google, they pulled in Oracle, and they designed a solution with the refugees and brought that solution to market – that was then handed across to the Kenya Red Cross (who launched the world’s first humanitarian smartphone app) to deliver it.

“We’re also helping women who are internally displaced in the Abuja camp (in Nigeria). These women are artisans… so we have a team over there, helping the women to trade online.”

People on phones at Techfugees
Techfugees was founded by Mike Butcher in 2015 (Techfugees)

“We’re looking at ways to bring the right solutions that actually empower people and (allow them) to be included in society,” Mr Burman said.

“I see that they’ve got an amazing quality of skills, their experience, and how that comes together to actually apply aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship together, which are two sides of the same coin.”

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