Tech charity offers training to talented refugees and a route to resettlement

UK-based non-profit Techfugees operates in seven countries, teaching refugees tech skills that increase their confidence and employability

Technology companies and non-profit organisations are increasingly working together to help ease the suffering of millions of refugees worldwide and to increase their chances of employment and resettlement. Photo: WFP
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A charity that works with Google and online course-provider Coursera to train refugees on digital skills commended the wealth of “undiscovered and untapped” human talent among them.

The chief executive of Techfugees, a non-profit organisation set up in 2015 to help refugees pursue a career in the tech industry, said the organisation’s missions were to empower immigrants and dispel negative stereotypes.

“What we want to show is there is an incredible wealth of human talent … rather than paint refugees as a fear or threat,” said Raj Burman.

“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.”

Volunteers at the charity collaborate with, mentor, and teach refugees to use their digital skills and earn significant roles in the progression of innovative tech-based projects – aiming to “provide a pathway for resettlement and safety”.

“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,” said the 56-year-old founder.

In collaboration with its tech partners, the organisation awards 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 said.

“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 in 40 countries – including a UK office in London – giving refugee camps the support and chance to work in tech and develop their skillset.

“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 ... worked with refugees to look at solutions to accelerate the eHealth electronic alerts when Covid outbreaks [occur] in the camp,” Mr Burman said.

“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.

“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.”

Updated: January 18, 2022, 12:08 PM