Hacktivists Connect Refugees with Work Opportunities

by February 15, 2018
filed under Activism
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Back in 2015 when the refugee crisis was at its peak, every newspaper you opened or newscast you watched engaged in a discussion around what would happen with this flood of newcomers. How would they become acclimated to their new homes or learn the languages? And perhaps most importantly: How would they find jobs?

Now, nearly three years later, the commotion has died down and many volunteers have returned to their regular routine. But for those who are still displaced, it can be difficult to know what resources are active and available today. This is why organizations like RefugeesWork are so important.

RefugeesWork was founded back in August 2015 by a small group of software developers in Berlin, Germany. Their mission is to help refugees worldwide build digital skills and match them with remote work opportunities. To accomplish this, RefugeesWork partners with WizardAmigos, an online school for JavaScript, to offer free hands-on and project-centric programming lessons.

“We were watching hundreds of thousands of people passing through Europe and we realized, we can’t go to Greece and help there, but we need to do something,” says Nina Breznik, solopreneur, hacktivist and co-founder of RefugeesWork. “Since we are all self-employed developers, we decided to help refugees who were also self-employed, to quickly get back to normal and continue with what they were doing and be able to earn their own money and connect with the locals through work.”

What’s unique about RefugeesWork is that their program focuses exclusively on remote and freelance work instead of in-person roles at local companies. “If refugees are pushed into elderly care or work in the factories and to learn German language only, then how can they later return home or move somewhere else,” Nina explains. “But if they become self employed, they can always take their ‘job’ with them.”

The resources that RefugeesWork provides is divided into three steps. First, the RefugeesWork team aims to help and encourage anyone to learn to code. To accomplish this, they connect learners with a community of ‘transparent, open-minded, science-loving, diverse and nomadic’ individuals. As a result, their total network extends far beyond refugees and they have learners everywhere from Taiwan to the Balkans. Additionally, Nina and her team have built a web platform full of tutorials and mock for those getting started with programming.

“The key is not to isolate, but to integrate and diversify,” Nina says. “Learners meet and discuss on the chat in our app while learning with their own speed with the help of the lessons.”

After learners have gained basic JavaScript programming knowledge, the second step is for them to begin working on their own project. “This is where they can be creative, entrepreneurial and get free support of mentors on the chat and our biweekly online hangouts,” explains Nina.

The third and final step is to connect learners with real paid projects. Initially, this means in pairs (mentors and learners), then later as individuals. The ultimate goal is to help the learners open their own businesses and work remotely for clients they are connected with via the RefugeesWork website. Throughout this process, mentors coach learners and teach them how to navigate bureaucracy, manage accounting, organize their self-employment or any other hurdles they may face.

As an organization, RefugeesWork is essentially a two-person operation with frequent support from a handful of other core contributors. It’s also entirely volunteer-based: No government support, no donations – just hacktivists willing to give their spare time. Nina says that this can be the most difficult part of running RefugeesWork, but also maybe the most rewarding.

“It was and is hard when you work for free and see how some organizations are getting thousands of euros shuffled in their projects and do nothing – and instead we push and move forward,” she says. “But it’s, in some sense, very satisfying to see that we don’t need anyone to make things happen, and who we are and what we can do is enough.”

In addition to RefugeesWork, Nina and her team also run another project called Wizard Amigos. Wizard Amigos works side-by-side with RefugeesWork, but focuses on a broader audience. “Lately, we have not been focusing only on refugees, but also people who live in less privileged countries,” says Nina. “Our idea is that we can help and support people when they are still at home… so next to JavaScript, we also teach blockchain technologies, self-employment, and remote work, so people in rural and poorer parts of the world don’t need to flee and search for better future in new countries, but can instead get the knowledge and apply for remote jobs and earn fair income and get better lifestyle in their home countries.”

Today, over 1000 learners have registered on RefugeesWork and this number continues to grow. To learn more about how you can support RefugeesWork and their mission, head over to their website.

“When we started with the project, we were shocked when we saw how many people showed support and joined the community because they believe in what we do,” says Nina. “We try to be mega transparent, so check out what we do, join, give feedback, collaborate or just share the word and inspire.”

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