This week we spoke to Ghida Ibrahim who set up Rafiqi, a pioneering new service connecting refugees with skilled local mentors and volunteers.
1. What is Rafiqi?
Rafiqi is an online platform for connecting refugees to people who can mentor them in their free time to help them access the job market, learn new skills and open their own businesses.
In addition to intelligently matching refugees to mentors, we aim to frame refugee mentorship in an online journey where mentors and mentees can easily interact, track their progress, access relevant e-learning material and pursue potential post-mentorship opportunities.
2. How did you get the idea? What motivated you to start it?
The idea behind Rafiqi was fuelled by my contact with refugees in Europe on the one hand, and with European friends and colleagues on the other.
I noticed that many of the newly arriving refugees, in particular the young ones, are highly skilled and very eager to absorb new knowledge. However, they really do not know where to start. On the other hand, I noticed that, despite their best intentions, many of the locals lack a proper understanding of refugees' context.
Being exposed to both worlds, I decided to use ICT and the internet to bridge the gap between refugees and their new communities, and to give each local mentor a flexible tool to help solve certain aspects of the refugee crisis, mainly through mentoring a refugee.
3. What progress have you made so far?
A pilot version of the Rafiqi website is up and running including two sample mentorship journeys respectively related to career coaching and entrepreneurship.
We also had a few early matches between refugees, mentors and opportunities. We are learning from these matches and relying on these to build a more advanced version of Rafiqi.
We're currently building partnerships with different kinds of organizations, including big corporates in the consulting industry, other refugee initiatives, and some training institutions. In terms of the team, we have 3 volunteers involved in the project and we're looking for more enthusiastic people to get involved.
4. What are the three biggest challenges?
Funding is our main challenge as we need to pay for specific web development, marketing and legal expertise. We also need to be able to pay for at least one part-timer to keep the daily operations of Rafiqi going.
Besides funding, we need to reach more newcomers and get them to register through the website. Currently, most of the newcomers are being reached through direct face-to-face interaction and word of mouth. We hope to eventually attract more volunteers registering through the website.
Finally, we need to build meaningful partnerships with big corporates, not only to reach more mentors, but also to understand their recruitment needs for the coming years and tailor our mentoring proposal accordingly.
5. How do you incorporate human centred design?
We try to incorporate human centred design in our website by gathering feedback from our early users and adapting different sections of the site in an agile manner.
6. What motivates you to keep going? Do you have any success stories you'd like to share?
I deeply believe that connecting refugees to the right locals can change both parties’ lives. This is what keeps me going.
On a personal level, starting Rafiqi has allowed me to enter into the world of refugees and find a lot of inspiration in this arena.
I feel lucky to have met people who have been through a lot of hardship but still hold a lot of positivity, motivation and beautiful dreams in them.
These people should not be called “refugees”, they should be called “heroes” instead.
7. What advice would you have for other digital workers who want to use their skills to support refugees in Europe?
Digital has made our world hyper-connected so why not use technology to create a fairer world? However, before going too far with a certain digital solution
I would advise any digital entrepreneur to get to know and understand the refugee groups they want to help, and build meaningful and deep relationships with this group however possible.
When we started Rafiqi we thought that refugees will simply come and register, and we were too focused on building the website.
But we soon realised that in the early stages, you really need to sell your idea in person to specific people in your target group.
These people will be your ambassadors later on and will help you reach your target group through various digital platforms.
In summary, a good one-to-one relationship with the right people in the early stages will lead to digital success later on.