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When, at the turn of the millennium, the United Nations General Assembly declared that the 20th of June would be annually observed as World Refugee Day, little was it expected that only a decade and a half later, the world would witness what is considered the largest humanitarian and refugee crisis since World War II.
Having said that, there are now a number of individuals -armed with entrepreneurial attitudes, tech skills, and sheer creativity- who have spontaneously started collaborating to tackle the issue in its entirety.
Digital scalable solutions have proved to be essential for reaching out to a large number of refugees and responding to their different needs, since, being disoriented and vulnerable, they need to be informed where to seek help, how to connect with volunteers, where to get familiarized with the laws and regulations of the new country, just to begin with.
Furthermore, a number of newly developed tech solutions are taking a step further by helping refugees rebuild their lives by providing them with education and employment opportunities.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the Beirut-based MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab (MITEF Pan Arab) was among the first to focus on the issue. Last year, they partnered with around 30 organizations, including Zain and MBC Hope, to launch Innovate For Refugees, a global competition designed to reward tech-driven solutions that address the most acute hardships faced by refugees.
One of the winning solutions, the Boloro and BanQu project, a strategic partnership between Boloro Global Limited and BanQu, Inc, has developed an “economic identity” platform to enable the portability of critical data needed by refugees and people living in impoverished areas.
Another refugee-related issue attracted the attention of two Lebanese IT experts, Ahmad Al-Hidiq and Salah Al-Hidiq. The duo launched a beta version of HeyDoc!, a telemedicine platform connecting doctors and patients worldwide, in September 2016, signing up over 1,500 users and generating over 500 advisories.
Also among the seven winners of the MITEF Pan Arab’s Innovate for Refugees competition was Evaptainers, which equips farmers and refugees with coolers that can be used instead of fridges at a fraction of the cost and without electricity.