Innovation involves experimentation, learning and an often overlooked element – interacting meaningfully with an ever-evolving ecosystem of people and organizations working in service to a broader purpose.
As a way to address this gap, The Hive at USA for UNHCR hosted more than 70 people across various sectors at the inaugural #Innovate4Refugees: Data and Tech Forum during the UN General Assembly week in September. Technologists, corporate sector partners, refugees, UN Refugee Agency staff, philanthropists and academics spent the day exchanging ideas about humanitarian technology innovations and data science solutions being researched and deployed to help protect, respond and empower refugees, stateless and internally displaced people worldwide.
This year’s theme at the forum focused on data and technology innovations to support the legal and digital protection of refugees. Attendees learned about the challenges refugees face with issues such as widespread misinformation and lack of legal representation and how responsible use and deployment of generative AI can help make their journeys safer.
Attendees also heard about opportunities to get involved in supporting innovative projects by refugee-led organizations and UNHCR field teams worldwide through the UNHCR Innovation Fund.
“We really wanted to create space to learn from, about and with the incredibly diverse participants in the refugee-serving ecosystem we are a part of,” shares Seema Iyer, Senior Director of The Hive. “I think we accomplished that as well as helping people connect to The Hive and USA for UNHCR’s broader mission.”
Keynote speaker and YouTube’s Global Head of Human Rights, Malika Saada Saar, joined Seema in celebrating the diversity in the room and connected the importance of coming together with finding creative and long-term solutions to difficult challenges.
“Where the ocean meets the river is the most powerful and fertile place — that is what this space is,” says Malika. “This is where you can be brave, ask questions and get uncomfortable. What comes out of this work is so needed.”
The event attracted a broad range of attendees such as Melanie Kahl, a technology and design strategist, who expressed the importance of centering the lived experience of refugees and forcibly displaced communities when arriving at solutions grounded in technology and innovation.
“In the U.S. we often look abroad to see what is happening in refugee issues and I’m curious about how we can help refugees on their journey, particularly when they arrive in the U.S.,” Melanie shares. “I’m curious about mapping data and how refugees are finding community here in the U.S.”
Khoa Ma, Associate Director of Endless Frontier Labs at the NYU Stern School of Business and member of The Hive’s Advisory Board since 2017, noted the need to include voices of those closest to providing critical assistance for refugees from the beginning when developing technologies and solutions.
“How do you start the conversation at stage one instead of trying to work backward,” shares Khoa. “If we all start thinking of it this way, when we build new innovative tools or software we’re thinking about the whole [refugee-supporting] community and not just how to help one part.”
“As people are being displaced around the world, [it’s important] you’re thinking about those who are on the ground trying to help when developing new technology.”
In the coming year, The Hive will continue to identify challenges facing forcibly displaced communities and tap into the wealth of knowledge from various data and technology sectors to help meet the needs of refugees.
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Founded in 2015, The Hive’s mission is to engage with the American public to raise awareness about refugees and design solutions that address their needs through technology and the data science process.