Centralizing Refugee Crisis Efforts


After a six week research sprint, our community at Prosper decided to solve a problem that was widespread across the refugee crisis. We defined the problem as follows:

Initiatives addressing the refugee crisis are scattered all across the web. This makes it difficult for refugees, volunteers, and donors to find exactly what they are looking for and leads to duplication of efforts. is our proposed solution to this problem. It is a platform that centralizes all the projects doing meaningful work in the refugee crisis so that refugees, volunteers, and donors can find exactly what they are looking for.

(We think of ourselves as a match-making service rather than a coordination service. We don't see ourselves being a lynch pin to on-the-ground critical aid.)

Apparently we weren't the only community who discovered this problem and realized the need to solve it. In the past months, several other applications have emerged with similar solutions to this problem:

Most of these efforts were created by people in central Europe who witnessed the problems created by scattered initiatives of the refugee crisis. These organizations are all trying to solve variations of the same problem, but interestingly each of them has a different focus. I won't go into detail here, but it's humbling to see the unique angles on each of the proposed solutions above.

Part 1: 'Meta' Meeting on December 22nd 2015

On Tuesday December 22nd 2015, Oli and Ulrike from Metabrain scheduled a meeting and invited representatives from all of the organizations above on the Techfugees Slack team. Prosper was fortunate enough to participate.

It was a fantastic and exciting meeting. I thought it important to summarize the meeting publicly and provide takeaways to share how a global community of digital workers is tackling problems of the refugee crisis.

Meeting Summary

Key representatives from Prosper, Sahana and Standby Taskforce introduced themselves and shared their vision and mission for centralizing refugee crisis efforts.

Oli and Ulrike kindly facilitated conversation and made sure we covered the items on the agenda (we generated them on the fly in a shared document).

The need for standards

Standby Taskforce mentioned the need to create a 'standards body' or similar type of organization.

We need a group to take leadership in decision making about: how this data look should be shared, what data should be shared, what should be closed, what could be mapped, what can’t be mapped, etc.

This reminded me of the web standards movement. I won't go into great detail, but it might we worth a quick skim:

The need for a central data model

Many of the smaller initiatives (including ours at are using Google Form/ Sheets to populate an initial database. There are two platforms that are way ahead of the game in regards to centralization efforts. One is and the other is Sahana.

We need agree upon a central data model for all of the 'meta' initiatives.

This is absolutely crucial. A central data model would allow us to share data easily (eventually programmatically) with each platform and not have headaches at every data import.

This central data model would allow each of the initiatives to take a specific focus rather than trying to have one massive project trying to do it all.

A tool for importing Google sheets

One of the contributors named Finn discussed the need to create a tool that would allow easy importing of data into Google sheets that are endpoints for form responses. If we had a central data model and a single tool that we could all use this tool would be invaluable.

Prosper's Response

At Prosper, we’re keen on creating a central data model, sharing data with other organizations, and are passionate about centralizing efforts no matter what the name is or who gets the credit. There is immediate and severe human need across Europe amidst the refugee crisis and we need to act now.

A question of focus

In hearing about all the different 'meta' initiatives, we realized that each has a slightly different purpose. No two platforms share the exact same mission, no two platforms are trying to solve the exact same problem from the exact same angle (as far as I can tell).

In speaking about centralizing efforts, I think it would be useful to be explicit about three things for each 'meta' initiative amidst the refugee crisis:

  • The problem we're trying to solve
  • Our proposed solution to this problem
  • How we'd like to create a solution (and why)

I'd like to invite participants from any of the 'meta' organizations to join this conversation about provide responses to the meeting and the takeaways I've mentioned above. Please feel free to request an invite on our website and join the conversation on Slack. If I can get you connected to any of the organizations listed above, I would happily do so...

Part II: Next Steps

On the 9th and 10th of January, there will be a two-day workshop in Berlin to discuss centralizing refugee crisis efforts. Details of the event are listed here: Metabrain Workshop Migration Hub Berlin.

I will be flying into Berlin to attend this workshop and encourage anyone else interested in centralizing refugee crisis efforts to attend. If you're reading this for the first time and want to join the movement, fill out a join request on our site, let me know you read this post and I will expedite your on-boarding process personally.

Closing thoughts

Now is a time unlike any other where digital workers globally can use their skills to solve problems of the refugee crisis. Never before has design and technology played such a crucial role in the resolution of a global humanitarian crisis.

Opportunities abound. Real human problems that can be solved by technology and design are everywhere. We have a chance to make a difference in the lives of people who need it most.

In the past we've found ourselves designing interfaces for eCommerce stores selling stuff nobody needs. We've found ourselves developing databases for corporations nobody cares about.

That time is changing. There is an easy way for digital workers to offer their skills to refugee crisis initiatives. Whether you're a designer, developer or project manager—we could use your help.

If you are interested in learning how to design and develop digital solutions to humanitarian problems, we've developed an apprenticeship program for citizens and refugees alike called Prosper Academy.

Just yesterday The Guardian posted an article about how software developers helped end the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. This timely article only serves to re-inforce the reality of our potential as digital workers to solve real problems for real people using technology and design.

John Ellison

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