Meet the women using tech to transform the lives of refugees

Suzanne Bearne:

Refugees and migrants charge their mobile phones as they rest on a ferry from the Greek island of Lesbos. Photograph: Iakovos Hatzistavrou/AFP/Getty Images

When the number of migrants and refugees crossing into Europe reached staggering new levels two years ago, Berlin-based Anne Kjær Riechert felt an overwhelming urge to help.

“My great grandfather and grandfather escaped from Germany in 1933 and were political refugees in Denmark, because of their pacifist views,” says the Dane, who in 2012 founded the Berlin Peace Innovation Lab, which works towards using technology to create global peace.

This sense of personal responsibility led her to co-found coding training programme Refugees on Rails before setting up the ReDI School of Digital Integration in 2015, a non-profit digital school for those applying for asylum in Germany.

“The purpose is to accelerate the refugees’ integration into German society and industry,” she says. “We are trying to create a win-win-win situation. Good for refugees, good for business, good for society.” She says the school focuses on solving Germany’s well-documented tech talent shortage.

“There are currently 51,000 available jobs in the IT industry in Germany and at the same time refugees need to get jobs.” More than 300 students have taken courses at the school. “We have achieved a tremendous impact so far,” says Kjær Riechert. “The last survey we conducted showed that almost 40% of our students were placed in paid internships or jobs.”

Since the school was set up, 20% of students have gone to university and 10% have founded one of five ReDI-incubated companies. As for the future, Kjær Riechert has lofty ambitions.

“We will continue to scale our courses in Berlin this year and in the next two years we aim to build new branches in three other German cities – Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart. By 2020, we aspire to impart IT skills to over 3,000 refugees.” It doesn’t stop there – she plans to look further afield and build a pan-European network of tech schools for refugees.

Reproduced from The Guardian




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