Ventures Helping Refugees

During one day in October, thirty people from Chalmers Ventures portfolio companies put their startups aside and went out to help refugees in Gothenburg. The goal was to help different organisations and see what problems they faced in order to come up with ideas and projects that would ease their situation. The day was a total blast and resulted not only in great hands-on help and long term initiatives, but also charged us with tons of positive energy. Spinning off from this day in the near future is the “Hack for Refugees” event 5-6 December in Gothenburg.

Sweden is now facing the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War but the official administrative solutions have in large been slow and insufficient. In response to this we held a full day for the CSE students, Chalmers Ventures' portfolio companies and the staff from Chalmers Ventures and Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship. McKinsey & Co kindly facilitated with conference facilities and coffee for our morning briefing and afternoon session. The idea was to focus on learning about the current issues connected the refugees were facing, divide us into teams and challenge ourselves to come up with practical solutions on the ground, and finally to find long term solutions. The five teams got assigned very different tasks related to needs that had been identified beforehand, and in the afternoon we all got together, reported our findings and had problem solving sessions to find ways forward. This resulted in four one-pages with problem definition, and a two-step solution plan to address this.

One of the teams was assigned to spend time with seven unaccompanied boys between the ages of 15 and 17. The boys had met during their escape from Afghanistan where most of their families remained. When the team met them, the boys had been in Sweden for about a week, first living at a short-term accommodation for refugees in Gothenburg seemingly being forgotten or stuck in the system and asylum seeking process. While waiting for something to happen, they got bored, so the team decided to give them a moment of fun. Together they came up with the idea of going ice-skating, which none of the boys had tried before. Thanks to google translate, body language and open hearts, communication wasn’t a problem, and thanks to Askims ishall and Hovås HC, the boys had a blast on the ice and a moment of eased concerns of their current situation and future.

Team 2 was assigned to accompany Gustav Martner and Hanna Wekell who started the initiative refugeephones.com a few months back. Refugee Phones is providing refugees who arrive in Sweden the necessary means to communicate with their relatives and friends who might be spread out all over Europe. We were asked to help out with basic - but oh so important- things as charging phones and making sure they had the correct apps such as Viber. Later during the day volunteers stopped by to collect phones and deliver them to different refugee housings. Talking to them our understanding increased for how important a simple thing as a phone can be for a person who just have spent the last few weeks on the run across Europe. Thanks to the enormous efforts of all the volunteers and the companies providing phones and cash cards, refugees can arrive in Sweden and instantly start to build a new life for themselves and their loved ones. We were overwhelmed by the fact that such a simple gesture can help in creating a safe environment in our unstable world. The team also came up with suggestions for how to long term improve the logistics of the organization.

Team 3 was addressed with both these challenges when they helped out at a warehouse in Bäckebol, which has become a coordination center for clothes collection and distribution. Besides helping out with sorting clothes during the day, we learned that the inflow, sorting, and outflow of clothes is currently rather unorganized. We helped with improving the current sorting system and there is now a plan to create an educational video to teach donors of clothes to pre-sort their donations in such a way as to reduce the time volunteers need to spend sorting. There is also a project starting to create and implement an ordering system in order to improve the in-flow of clothes. 

Group 4 visited a newly started initiative at Chalmers that aims to get newly arrived engineers engaged in companies that needs competence. During the day the team found that there were many projects in place doing the same thing all over Sweden, and they helped out in connecting and coordinating these initiatives.

The last group that helped out at the refugee shelter at Redbergskyrkan was massively impressed by their organization and the systems that were in place to make everything run smoothly. This group helped out with the daily tasks needed, and together with some ideas from other teams this lead to an idea of creating a general volunteer app, where different projects could coordinate the needs for volunteers, to fully leverage on the available human resources. 

A pattern among the groups started to show that a lot of the different problems could be solved by software solutions. The solutions in general was not that complex for a software engineer, but too complex for the volunteers that run the different organizations. With this in mind the crew behind Gothenburg Startup Hack came up with the idea to start a hackathon - a set amount of time where developers meet and develop new cool things. The idea is to gather the different problems and divide them amongst the developers at the hackathon in order for solutions to be built. In order to enable all the developers in Sweden to contribute the solutions will then be open source and gathered at one place. The hackathon will be called Hack for Refugees and will take place the 5-6th of december.

The initiatives have started off great, and maybe you are interested in joining us in pursuing these objectives described above? Please contact us directly (see below) to get involved.

Hack for Refugees (http://hackforrefugees.com)

Andreas Rolén - andreasrolen93@gmail.com

Refugee Phones: Gustav Martner - martner@burtcorp.com

Logistics for clothing: Carl Billton - carl.billton@hotmail.com

App for volunteers: Hanna Dahlborg - hanna@feely.se

Others: Erik Rådbo – erik@chalmersventures.com