The project in brief
Urban Refuge - USA
September 2016 - Present
An aid-mapping app that connects refugees (and other vulnerable populations) in urban areas to the resources that work to serve their most vital needs.
We aim to change the standard of self sufficiency for refugees and other Persons of Concern. Our app works to make aid resources transparent and accessible to all. Our app will lessen the dependency that newly arrived immigrants often have with case workers to help them sort out the host country’s systems. With our app, if an individual needs healthcare, legal services, housing, food, education, etc. they will be able to quickly look up the most convenient option and at least be informed about their options.
Boston University Spark & Innovation Lab created the first versions of the app free of cost.
Main activities of the Good Practice
When a case worker comes in contact with a newly arrived client, they can recommend the client downloads the Urban Refuge app to look at the resources available in their area. This gives the individual the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the local resources that work with their citizenship status and begin to understand the new system they are living in. Then, especially in minor situations, the individual feels much less dependent on their case worker for the little things.
International Rescue Committee - San Jose, CA
Challenges and how they were overcome
The first challenge is that our team was originally formed within a university and later became an independent entity, without someone to take it on full-time. Urban Refuge began in a Forced Migration and Human Trafficking Incubator class, taught by Professor Noora Lori at Boston University, in 2016. When the original team graduated and moved on to full-time work, Professor Lori continued Urban Refuge as a research tool, at least. In 2018, Urban Refuge was reactivated by our current CEO, Raina Kadavil. Raina then hired our Executive Team, including myself, and we are overseen by our Board of Directors, which includes Professor Lori and her original students. Relating to this, a challenge we have is that we are fully run by part-time volunteers who are passionate about our cause, but not funded or full-time.
How they were overcome
We have been able to mediate the first challenge - not having someone committed full-time - by building up our team. Our Board, partnerships, researchers, and Executive Team have invested their time and skills into growing this organization to advance a global system.
Results of the Good Practice
So far, the app has only been launched in San Jose, California but had over 25 active users within the first few days of launching.
How the project meets the GCR Objectives
Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries
Host countries can list their services on the Urban Refuge platform in order to help refugees find aid and ease the pressure off of centers who need live staff, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
Urban Refuge is all about helping refugees navigate their new homes with nothing more than their phone. All the information they need to access education, health services, legal aid, job information, housing, and more will be at their fingertips - translated into their native language and with the ability to link to Google or Apple maps if directions are needed.
Urban Refuge is an ongoing initiative. Once the Istanbul and Westchester versions of the app are launched, we have plans to expand to Cairo and Beirut. The end goal for Urban Refuge is to be live in all urban spaces where refugees are located, to be able to provide end-to-end aid.
Further support required for the project to continue or scale up
Primarily, we are always searching for operational support. This means helping us connect to refugees in the cities where we are live. We rarely approach refugees directly and instead work through partner nonprofits who provide refugees with direction and aid. Therefore, any nonprofit who is willing to partner and help us provide our service to refugees would be welcome.
Marietta La Barbera, Chief Operating Officer, Urban Refuge