For refugees in Europe, this app is a gateway to local networking
- 09 January 2019
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Sam Fouad Ahmad, a biomedical engineer from Syria, has been in the Netherlands for three years now. Inundated at first by a culture very different to his own, he can now mingle easily with locals as well as explore career opportunities. And it’s all thanks to a smartphone app.
Sam registered on the Welcome app and soon found himself meeting two people for lunch. Using the app certainly seems to have been a positive experience for him. “It is very easy to use,” he told My Salaam. “People in my position find it useful for two purposes. It is a good way to meet Dutch people to get to know the country and the mentality of the people. And I use it to try finding opportunities for work.”
Apps such as Welcome are a great example of how technology helps in a humanitarian crisis.
Welcome is available in Norway and Sweden, with over 60,000 digital connections between locals and refugees in Sweden alone. Based in the Netherlands, Julius Weise runs an NGO, the Blendin Foundation, which serves the same purpose as the app. When he read an article about the Swedish version, he secured permission for a Dutch version, which he launched in November 2018.
“[T]here are so many similar small organisations with the same objective as Blendin, but no cohesiveness,” Julius explained. He also confessed that the technology of their previous platform “wasn’t great. It made it difficult to keep up with all the requests for connections.”
Julius volunteered in Italy, Greece and the Netherlands during the refugee influx. He founded Blendin in 2016, as his experience taught him that refugees found it difficult to integrate without access to local connections.
Now, Blendin is running most of its refugee support programmes through Welcome. In the first three weeks since the app went live, Welcome registered 700 users. Blendin had 4,000 users on the old platform, and the team is working to shift them to the app.
CREATING NEW CONNECTIONS
Once the app is downloaded, it offers five options for connections. These include lunch invitations and asking or answering questions. Simple, but when it comes to building bridges between locals and newcomers, this makes for a solid foundation.
Welcome also helps the newcomers to connect with relevant professional networks in order to find work. Blendin introduced a new function in May 2018, matching 25 people with their relevant professional networks. Seven of them have found full-time jobs.
Sam has also recently met the Welcome team to give them details about his work and educational qualifications. Now that he is in their system, he hopes to be paired with someone from a similar field who will introduce him to employment opportunities.
Through the “Events and Activities” option, other organisations or individuals working towards similar goals can share and promote their events. A fifth option offers companies a way to connect with refugees, help with their integration process and eventually use it to recruit qualified candidates.
Julius hopes to make Welcome more independent as a move towards sustainability. They plan to charge a service fee to companies; the app tracks the activities of each company and, through the app, will offer data about the impact that each company makes. This is not only useful for the company; as it is visible to all users, it serves as an image-building tool. It is, of course, also a way for companies to get in contact with this particular demographic. But for now, Blendin is focused on growing the community online.
(Writing by Susan Muthalaly; Editing by Seban Scaria email@example.com)
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