Innovation

Melbourne tech community comes together to help refugees settle in Australia

Dinushi Dias /

More than 200 hundred founders, entrepreneurs, developers and investors have come together to come up with innovative ways to help refugees settle in Australia for the Melbourne debut of the global Techfugees movement.

The weekend-long event was held at Launchpad in Richmond and saw 15 teams formulate a range of solutions, and organiser and Lulumpr founder Lama Tayeh says the turnout was better than expected.

“We were overwhelmed with the support and turnout, the vibe was amazing,” Tayeh tells StartupSmart.

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A range of ideas

Interpeter Central – a marketplace connecting newly settled refugees with interpreters – took out the top prize at the hackathon, winning $5000 from LaunchVic and a place in the Cultivate program to further develop the concept.

Created by Ali Raza, Andre Bergh and Harry Sanders, the idea is to improve access to language services to empower refugees who could otherwise face challenges like communicating with a doctor because their accredited interpreter speaks in a dialect they are not familiar with.

Given the vast array of dialects within various languages, Interpreter Central creates a platform to better match refugees with interpreters who properly meet their needs.

Another finalist was FriendFugees, a social networking app aiming to tackle isolation and mental health problems that develop from social exclusion.

The team, led by user experience specialist Suzan Majeed, was inspired to create the app because about 50% of refugees have been found to experience loneliness and don’t feel welcomed in the communities they resettle in.

Other solutions ranged from language learning with artificial intelligence to safe storage of personal data.

“The amount of solutions that came up from that short time and the quality of the demos that were presented were fantastic,” Tayeh says.

“Even the judges had a difficult time deciding because of how good the solutions were.”

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Bringing Techfugees to Melbourne

Techfugees was brought to Melbourne by a team of six volunteers including angel investor Shelli Trung, herself a former refugee, and Tayeh, who dedicated many hours to secure the event’s sponsors and partners across industries.

They eventually convinced Australian Red Cross and AMES Australia to jump on board as not-for-profit partners and the event saw industry leaders by the likes of LaunchVic CEO Dr Pradeep Philip come together to support and celebrate the use of technology to help the wider population.

Australian Red Cross CEO Judy Slayter says the event was a great way to leverage the talent of the tech talent to support the organisation’s work with refugees.

“By linking up the startup industry, migrant communities and the community sector, this hackathon is the chance to bring valuable new skills and innovative ways of working to supporting refugees as they live in Australia,” Slayter says in a statement.

The event was also live-streamed around the world.

“It was really set to take human-centred design, technology and problem solving to a whole new level,” Teyah says.

Pictures: Stefan Welack

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Dinushi Dias

Dinushi Dias is a freelance journalist and a former StartupSmart reporter and multimedia content producer. She is the co-founder of Melbourne-based production house Dinushi & Power.

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