Hacking for Refugees

hackathon for good collage

From July 27 - 29, USA for UNHCR virtually participated in Microsoft’s Hack for Good with fourteen volunteers from across Microsoft. The challenge for this virtual hackathon is especially critical for an increasingly virtual world. How can we better connect refugees resettled in the United States to service providers, such as nonprofits, community based organizations and government agencies? 

Refugees overcome numerous challenges and obstacles when they resettle to the United States. Upon arrival, refugee families are provided a case manager from one of the nine resettlement agencies and given guidance on how to secure housing and employment, how to navigate public transportation and how to enroll their children in school. 

Resettlement services can expire in as few as 90 days. After that, refugee families are on their own to navigate and adjust to a new culture, language and social system.  

For many families, three months is simply not enough time to adjust and they require additional assistance before they can truly make their new communities feel like home. Although there are incredible resources for refugees in all communities across the country, there are obstacles for families to access these services. Many service providers have limited access to digital resources, while others provide information in English only. With these limitations, it can be extremely challenging for refugees to locate organizations that offer assistance. Finding solutions to these challenges was the premise of the problem statement USA for UNHCR posed to Microsoft volunteers. 

As an exercise to illustrate the complexity of this problem, several volunteers tried using common search engines to locate housing resources and medical assistance in their respective areas.

Over the course of three days, Microsoft volunteers interviewed refugee organizations in the Seattle area to better understand this problem statement. The volunteers then developed two prototypes using data on nonprofit organizations from Charity Navigator (1) the wireframe for a mobile phone app and (2) a website with a search feature. USA for UNHCR is exploring the minimum viable products developed at this virtual hackathon and how these solutions can help resettled refugees in the U.S.

Hack for Good yielded some incredible new tools that could directly impact the lives of refugees around the world. 

“For anyone interested in improving their skills, increasing awareness of the refugee experience and improving the quality of software and systems that are available to refugees - I highly recommend partnering with and supporting any future projects at The Hive!,” says Eric Jarvi, a Microsoft employee. “Their world class preparation, connections, data sources and close technical partnership with Microsoft during our 2020 Hackathon allowed us to hit the ground running and made this effort a great experience for everyone involved.”

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Sep 9 2020
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