THINK! is an international non profit think-tank whose aim is to circulate knowledge on how digital technologies can enable innovation processes and sustainable development
CATEGORY: Quality of life (Show all)
TAGLINE: Provide refugee families with a tracing system to help them reconnect with missing loved ones
KEYWORDS: Health, Mobile
Every day, families are torn apart in their escape from war, persecution or natural disasters. All too often they end up in different parts of the world, afraid, alienated and alone.
Refugees United is a fully independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization working to provide refugee families with a global, anonymous and user-driven tracing system to help them reconnect with missing loved ones.
As part of a pilot project in Uganda, Refugees United is using mobile tools to help connect refugees who have been displaced by war, persecution, and natural disasters. Refugees United is a Danish NGO that designed and runs a web-based program to help people directly reconnect with missing loved ones. For the mobile pilot, it is working in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), mobile phone maker Ericsson, MTN, a mobile telecommunications company in Africa and specifically MTN Uganda, as well as other partner organizations on the ground.
The mobile project allows refugees to register details about themselves via SMS and to be matched with family members who are looking for them. The mobile pilot has been written about by many media organizations, including a blog that refers to it as “the social network that is more important than Facebook.” Refugees United also received a $2.6 million grant from Omidyar Network to expand operations “by augmenting its technology platforms, recruiting developers, and developing new partnerships with international refugee agencies.”
In 2010, Ericsson joined with Refugees United, the UNHCR and MTN to develop and deploy a mobile phone application so refugees can register to search for a loved one via an anonymous database. Danish brothers and social entrepreneurs David and Christopher Mikkelsen formed Refugees United after spending years helping an Afghan refugee find his family. In 2008 they launched an anonymous online search engine but realized how crucial it was to have an option using mobile text messaging.
Ericsson is making that solution possible and scalable. This includes developing a platform for operators to offer the search-and-find services on a large scale. By the end of 2010, according to Refugees United, 11,152 refugees had registered for the service; and in 2011 it is estimated a total of 120,000 will take advantage of it. According to the UNHCR, 3 million people in East Africa alone could benefit from the service.
The Refugees United project builds on Ericsson’s decades of experience delivering connectivity to the African continent and building knowledge about how ICT can meet people’s needs. We continue to work with partners in support of the refugee cause and other underserved populations. In 2007, together with MTN, the UNHCR and the GSMA Development Fund, Ericsson became involved in a project in Northern Uganda to bring connectivity to refugee settlements through mobile phone and Internet communication.
In offering the service, Refugees United will create, maintain and update the database, while Ericsson will provide the mobile application, technology and systems integration to enable the application in mobile networks. Operators will host and offer the service in their networks, and UNHCR will help to implement the project in different refugee settlements. The use of already installed network capacity and ease of integration for any operator anywhere, makes this service scalable and replicable in any market.
Refugees can register on the Refugees United search site using information such as nicknames, scars, former locations and the like that is recognisable only to family and close friends. No third party is involved in Refugees United, either in the organisation or the running and supervision of the search tool.
Refugees United is an online forum that helps empower refugees to directly reconnect with missing family and friends. They administer the database ourselves without involvement from any third parties. Both registration and use allow for full anonymity: