INNOVATION

These So-Tech Companies Are Making Lives Of Refugees In Australia Better

When technology and a social conscience come together.

10/11/2016 11:19 AM AEDT | Updated 10/11/2016 7:47 PM AEDT
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Tech startups are meeting the needs of new refugees in Australia. (Photo by Thierry Tronnel/Corbis via Getty Images)

Software development and aid work might seem like an unlikely combination, but for these tech startups, it just works. It's called 'so-tech' -- the growing field using technology as a tool for social causes.

Aid worker Alice Brennan started with a simple question: how do you enable someone to do something that's good for them at a time of crisis?

Armed with a masters degree in psychosocial intervention, Brennan went to the Techfugees hack-a-thon in November 2015. While there, she came up with the idea behind SettleIn -- it's an app designed to help refugees set goals to make their transition to life in Australia a little easier.

"What I realised was that refugees were a demographic that was so diverse and I couldn't think of a single thing that they had in common," Brennan told the Huffington Post Australia. "The only way to allow them to flourish as individuals is to allow them to create their own path."

In collaboration with case workers, refugees and refugee non-profit organisations STARTTS and SSI, Brennan developed the concept for the app which connects newly arrived refugees with the social workers who can help them.

"It's designed to make refugees feel like they are in a lot more control of what happens to them in Australia," Brennan said. "It's an entire case management system that sits between the refugee and the case worker."

Alice Brennan (Supplied)
Alice Brennan is the founder of SettleIn.

Brennan came up with her idea at the same hack-a-thon as another so-tech startup, Refugee Talent. Nirary Dacho was highly experience in IT and had a masters in web science and yet when he came to Australia from Syria as a refugee, he couldn't find work.

"I couldn't find a job because I didn't have any local experience," Dacho told Huffpost Australia. "It's a problem for all migrants but it affects refugees more because they came with nothing."

He met Anna Robson at the Techfugees hackathon last year where they had the same idea -- to build a digital platform to connect refugees with employers. Refugees can build a profile on the site and then Refugee Talent match them up with employers with job openings. There are a wide range of jobs and internships on the site, from qualified engineers to entry level positions.

Dacho said both the employer and the refugee reap huge benefits from this arrangement.

"They [the employer] get highly skilled people, hard workers, and more diversity. More diversity means more ideas," he said. "Refugees have years of experience, they are willing do to anything to get started."

Supplied/Refugee Talent
Niarary Dacho based the idea for Refugee Talent from his own experience as a refugee in Australia.

Both SettleIn and Refugee Talent took part in the Two Feet program run by TDi (The Difference Incubator). The six months of workshops bring together social enterprise startups so they can work on their business models. The incubator program costs each enterprise $15,000, however NAB has chipped in $10,000 of this fee for two years.

Later this month, the two companies will be trying to convince a panel of judges, including Huffington Post Australia's editor-in-chief Tory Maguire, that their business has what it takes to be a success at TDi's dragon's den event. The prize? A $15,000 cash prize and entry into TDi's elite investment readiness program.

TDi's CEO Bessi Graham has seen a huge growth in the so-tech sector over the last 12-18 months and said that these tech businesses have the potential to scale up much more quickly than other businesses.

"Usually what we see is they have hopeless business models," Graham told Huffpost Australia. "But when you get the business model right and identify a gap or need in the market, as these finalists have, you then have a really exciting opportunity."

"We are seeing real movement in that space."

TDi Dragon's Den event is on 22nd November in Melbourne. Tickets available on Eventbrite.

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