‘Wealth of tech talent’ offers hope for refugees, says Brighton charity chief

Posted On 17 Jan 2022 at 12:01 am

The head of a charity that works to help refugees pursue a career in the tech world has praised the “wealth of talent” among displaced communities.

Raj Burman, 56, from Brighton, was talking about his experience with Techfugees, a non-profit organisation where volunteers collaborate with, mentor and teach refugees to utilise their digital skills.

The charity has helped them find significant roles working innovative tech-based projects and aims to “provide a pathway for resettlement and safety”.

Mr Burman, the chief executive of Techfugees, said that the charity, which was started in 2015 on the back of the Syrian refugee crisis, helped to “empower” displaced people around the world who have “traumatic and emotional” stories.

He said: “What we want to show is there is an incredible wealth of human talent … rather than paint refugees as a fear or threat, (we want) to really see the opportunity of human talent that is undiscovered and untapped.

“So that’s what we’re doing – giving them the right role, guiding them, connecting them to opportunities, but then empowering them (so) that they feel included in society, and they have a voice and they can participate in the digital economy.

“It’s incredibly rewarding… (we) don’t see people as refugees, (we) see them as humans and talented individuals who can actually support economic recovery, which is so needed right now.”

Techfugees works in collaboration with Google and online course-provider Coursera to award funded scholarships for certifications to “support their job-readiness”.

Mr Burman said that the organisation had helped more than 2,000 displaced people so far and aimed to connect 1.2 million more to Techfugees projects over the next three years.

Mr Burman said: “(Refugees) have tenacity and the perseverance because of the journey they’ve gone through.

“They don’t sit still, there’s a massive appetite to learn – they want to be honourable, they want to support their communities and share knowledge … and that’s a spirit that really energises me to wake up in the morning.

“We’re suffering a labour shortage in the digital sector and we’re bridging that with talent.”

Techfugees works with camps in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and Lebanon, and has “touchpoints” across 40 countries – including a UK office in London – giving those in refugee camps the support and chance to work in tech and develop their skills.

Raj Burman

He said: “To give you a practical example: at the height of the covid crisis last year, our team in Kenya who are resident in the Kakuma Kalobeyei refugee camp, they worked with refugees to look at solutions to accelerate the eHealth electronic alerts when covid outbreaks (occur) in the camp.

“So they worked with the Kenya Trust, they pulled in Google, they pulled in Oracle, and they designed a solution with the refugees and brought that solution to market – that was then handed across to the Kenya Red Cross (who launched the world’s first humanitarian smartphone app) to deliver it.

“We’re also helping women who are internally displaced in the Juba camp (in South Sudan). These women are artisans … so we have a team over there, helping the women to trade online.

“We’re looking at ways to bring the right solutions that actually empower people and (allow them) to be included in society.

“I see that they’ve got an amazing quality of skills, their experience, and how that comes together to actually apply aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship together, which are two sides of the same coin.”

Mr Burman is not the Brighton-based member of the team. His colleague Josh Russell brings 20 years of digital experience to the organisation.

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