In Africa, there is always opportunity for people to create adequate solutions to problems. Such is the story behind our application for this week – Ref Unite Plus (part of the Refugees United Project). With past issues of war and destabilizing crisis the continent has witnessed comes the attendant problem of displaced persons and refugee and any solution which attempts to deal with this behemoth is more than welcome.
Ref Unite Plus gets its name from the work of the non-governmental organization (NGO) – Refugees United, which works with family tracing and targets refugees and others who have been separated from loved ones due to war and conflict.
Refugees United was founded in Denmark in 2008, with an office in Kenya. Ref United Plus was one of the two winning application prototypes developed in Nairobi during the Kenya Hackathon – a part program of the global hack for good, organized around the central cause by Ericsson and Refugees United in the run-up to World Refugee Day 2013. The event also took place in Cairo and Silicon Valley, where developers were tasked with a challenge of coding applications to ensure that the platform is accessible to families living in refugee camps and remote areas.
Problem It Solves
Refugees United aims to directly help families reconnect with missing loved ones through a safe, secure search tool that allows for full anonymity and is free of charge. It helps to streamline the process of family tracing by providing a free online tool, which can be used by both individuals and NGOs. Refugees United partners with the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR and the Kenyan Red Cross Society amongst others.
At the two-day event which produced Ref Unite Plus, dedicated developers had a weekend to solve a challenge based on how to connect refugee families separated by war, conflict and disaster, with the projects judged by a special Ericsson and Refugees United panel.
Refugees United is a free, mobile and online platform that allows people to search for missing family members, friends, and relatives on a safe and anonymous basis. Leveraging the ubiquitous nature of simple mobile phones across places like Kenya and DRC, it features a new and simple way of accessing the Refugees United family reconnection platform, which will serve many more thousands of families in the search for their missing loved ones.
Ref Unite Plus was developed at the hackathon, by ‘Team ACID’, as an online web registration system that make it easier to locate a refugee. A point strongly emphasized by Christopher Mikkelsen, co-founder of Refugees United, is that “everyone has the right to know where their family is.”
This event pushes the boundaries of technology, while improving the pioneering and innovative family-tracing platform refunite.org, built by Ericsson and Refugees United.
According to Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Vice President, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Ericsson, “This initiative has the power to transform the nature of family reconnection for generations to come. It is an example of how mobile technology is truly changing the lives of people on the African continent for good. We are looking for innovative ways to get this to scale, and partnerships are key to success.”
Already the project has a global outlook, and it solves a problem not only peculiar to Africa, but one which affects the rest of the world whether directly or indirectly. It provides a vast opportunity for use right across the globe.
Imagine the solution taking on a problem highlighted by Richard Ngamita, a Data Analyst Manager at Refugees United who says, “With more than 43 million forcibly displaced people of the world, there is an urgent need to reconnect families to their missing loved ones. Everyone has the right to know where their family is.”
A lot of credit must go to Refugees United for the great work they do, however the project does not assist with physical reunifications. Maybe a bit cumbersome, but it would have been nice to that added value.
The service is available in multiple languages, free of charge, with no government or other authority involved. According to Wikipedia, “It is entirely up to the individual wishing to search for his or her family to decide how much – or little – information to disclose on their profile. Everyone has the possibility to register with a large variety of personal markers which will only be known to family and close friends, if an individual refugee feels unsafe to reveal their full name or location. Particular emphasis is placed on the security aspects of the Refugees United server.”
As Elaine Weidman-Grunewald said, “Increasingly we see developers wanting to apply their skills for a good cause – this is a true example of technology for good, and we hope to see the world’s most talented developers create new ideas to serve more separated families”.
Partnering since 2010, Ericsson and Refugees United seek to help separated families reconnect via mobile technology, supporting a mobile and web platform that empowers refugees to take the search for long lost family members into their own hands.