Article

A case study in refugee innovation: Debunking assumptions with Pluralsight One

By Lindsey Kneuven    |    June 17, 2019

Students. Teachers. Mothers. Doctors. Farmers. Children. Engineers. These are the people that make up refugee communities around the world. It can be easy to define these individuals by their displacement and simply call them refugees, but removing them of their identity can be paralyzing when it comes to taking action. Each person in a refugee community is an individual with skills, aspirations and goals — and all of those things were disrupted when they were forced to flee.

There’s a massive amount of complexity surrounding the need to help individuals find families, rebuild communities, address trauma, health and safety needs, and reconnect people to skill development and employment. The innovations that are taking place — through the work of Pluralsight One, industry partners and NGOs — are providing continued learning and non-traditional work opportunities, as well as embedding technology in solutions.

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Pluralsight One at ICT4D

Regardless of where they fall in their journey to safety and resettlement, displaced individuals around the world are seeking refuge and the opportunity to rebuild their lives and achieve a vibrant, safe future. Pluralsight One was recently invited to discuss this future by participating in the Information Communications Technology for Development (ICT4D) conference. It took place in Kampala, Uganda, and brought together over 950 attendees from more than 79 countries — representing a collective 300 public, private and civil society organizations.

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Over the course of several days, conference participants highlighted complex humanitarian problems and how technology can be applied to solve problems and drastically reduce inequalities. Participants focused on the digital transformation and innovation needs of NGOs and the populations they support. Topics included food security, human rights, democracy, logistics and infrastructure, health, learning, employability and more.

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Despite assumptions to the contrary, technology is a part of daily life for refugees. They use it to solve critical problems, have a voice in the global society, overcome constraints to learn, improve their communities and become future leaders.

For example, farmers in East African camps often receive the same amount of crop inputs through aid infusions year to year, but environmental changes create fluctuations in the yield. This results in instability for families’ health and economic well-being. To help combat this issue, experts and academics partnered with humanitarian organizations to use drone technology to map and track historical maize yields in an effort to eliminate spikes in hunger.

Through stories of ingenuity like this, it’s clear that Northern Uganda’s refugee population is truly a case study in innovation, and the ICT4D conference spotlighted how people from countries all over Africa — with diverse contexts, abilities and levels of education — are coming together to impact real change.

Innovation in action in Northern Uganda

After the conference, Pluralsight One was one of only four organizations invited by NetHope to conduct site visits in Northern Uganda to explore those innovations firsthand and discuss how we can mobilize our resources. We visited Bidi Bidi and Rhino Camp, where over 90 NGOs deploy resources and solutions to serve an influx of refugees. We spoke with NGOs about what types of technology could help them accelerate impact.

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The thing that makes Uganda uniquely ripe for innovation is its progressive and inclusive approach to refugee communities. As the country has absorbed people fleeing from conflict and disaster, they have focused on policies of resilience rather than containment, enabling refugees to obtain work legally in their host country, move freely and evaluate the security of the region—so they can move forward with rebuilding.

This open, encouraging environment has empowered refugees to make incredible strides toward improving technology access and lifting the human condition. These are the type of innovations Pluralsight One works to empower through pilot programs in the area. Here’s a snapshot of some of the inspiring work we observed:

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These two young men — Mathew Lubari and Richard Maliamungu — built a WiFi booster out of local materials (wood, chicken wire and zip ties) to improve internet access across their camp. They are now working with industry partners to create a version they can package and sell to NGOs operating in camps, thus meeting a technological need while also generating revenue. This revenue will go toward scaling their youth programming with Community Technology Education Network (CTEN), a refugee-created and led organization focused on tech skills development. These young men are also piloting Pluralsight One.

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At Rhino Camp, Medical Teams International (MTI) demonstrated the critical importance of data accessibility to the health and well-being of the displaced persons they treat, as well as broader local and global communities. MTI utilizes data-driven insights gathered in the field to track birth rates and spikes in preventable diseases, reporting back to fellow NGOs and humanitarian agencies, which use the data at a high level to head off outbreaks and pandemics, as well as plan for shelter and food rations.

Technological limitations and lack of data literacy makes it difficult for these robust data findings to trickle down to the individuals who might benefit the most: The patients. To meet that need, MTI reports data to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, while also creating illustrated posters for patients, health care practitioners and aid agencies to help them make informed decisions about immediate and long-term health needs.

These two examples underscore the myriad of ways that technology is being used in these regions, and its impact on their populations.

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How you can impact change

At Pluralsight One, we know we can create a ripple effect by empowering organizations and individuals with the technology skills they need to solve global problems. The refugees we met have skills and technology resources and are working diligently to create solutions. We have a great amount to learn from humanitarian experts and the community members they support, and we must invest in co-creating with them and participating in events like ICT4D.

So how can you get involved? The best place to start is to challenge your understanding of refugee populations, what displaced individuals might need and what they are capable of. Work to educate yourself on the root problems that exist in these communities and think about how the skills, tools and technologies you use everyday could help benefit them and lift them up.

World Refugee Day is coming up on June 20, and Pluralsight will share global numbers around the refugee crisis, as well as announce an exciting new partnership. Stay tuned for more ways you can get involved and for an opportunity to donate directly to the cause.

About the author

Lindsey is the Chief Impact Officer at Pluralsight and the Executive Director of Pluralsight One.