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French girls. They have this je-ne-sais-quoi. Flair. Attitude. This aura of pure feminine invincibility. I know what I’m talking about, I’m married to one.

When Joséphine Goube, the CEO of Techfugees -a non-profit based in London – took the stage to kick off SXSW, she did it the French way: with a spring in her step, a twinkle in her eye, and a smile in her voice. But her joyful and energetic keynote left no room for mistake: Goube is tough as nails if it comes to expose the extreme unfairness in which immigrants are treated.

Forbes Magazine nominated her three times in a row as one of the top 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, Joséphine is an energetic activist for inclusion of migrants, displaced people and refugees. Before Techfugees, she worked as a tech evangelist for the web-based recruitment platform, Yborder.

Living nearby Calais, she witnessed from close by how the French government preferred putting 2,3 million in a wall against the migrants, over investing it in a clean and  functional refugee camp. It made her shiver with rage and indignation: “Building a wall is making a difference between us and them. The first step in dehumanizing ‘the enemy’ starts with words and images” she testified with passion: “we need to fight for our values with images and words. We need to battle with Empathy. We need to humanize. We need to take the dark head on.”


So, she joined Techfugees, a non-profit global social enterprise coordinating the international tech community’s response to the needs of Refugees. Techfugees exists to empower the displaced with technology. Techfugees organises conferences, workshops, hackathons and meetups in around the world in an effort to generate tech solutions for and with refugees. It also curates and promotes the best projects it finds for partnerships & implementation in the field.

While they are not involved in creating or marketing apps directly to refugees, Techfugees  promotes and pushes tech solutions as a way of keep technology in the global conversation about refugee issues.

The power of your passport

“Immigrants have always been here. The disturbing thing is that we threat them worse than we used to do. We used to be proud to help. We absorbed the WW2 refugees, the people running away from communism. The people displaced by Franco’s dictatorship,” she stated calmly, but firmly: ”We have forgotten to be emphatic with people who were born in the wrong country.”

She then proceeded: “we forget the power of our passports. Nobody chooses where he or she is born. A German can visit 174 countries without visum. An Afghan can visit 24. What are we afraid of? We had 0.15 percent of undocumented migrants in Europe in 2015”.

Think about that, take all the time you need.

Tech, social tech and media for good

Techfugees has several differentiating factors that has earned its reputation as the global advocate for using technology in refugee aid. Firstly, it emphasize co-creation with refugees. It lets social entrepreneurs utilise first-hand user stories to build alongside, not for, refugee beneficiaries. This gives the displaced a cause, a connection point. A first sign they are human, smart, valuable. Joséphine Goube underscores the importance of partnerships, cooperation and knowledge sharing within the ecosystem of government workers, NGOs, tech entrepreneurs, communication specialists and financial donors. This avoids duplication of efforts and resources. It promotes a whirling, positive environment, a human superconductor to benevolent scale. Techfugees gives volunteers and refugees the autonomy to tackle their local challenges. It creates a symbiotic sense of ownership for social integration, mutual respect and inclusion.

Technology generates faster and cheaper distribution, better communication, better understanding. It allows for a more efficient usage of scarce resources. It triggers growth, generates economics of scale. Technology, and social technology are the cornerstones for effective humanitarian aid.

Your Phone. It’s a weapon. It connects to people

Goube then asked to see all the phones. Over a thousand phones went up, hesitantly. She took hers, and shook it as to start a revolution: “Your phone is the more powerful piece of tech you will ever possess.  Use it to do good. It has social media to connect to people in distress. Search engines to dig for the truth. Cameras and screens to see the reality of people. We will  need our tech, our skills, our science, our media and connecting technologies to build bridges. Environmental factors is going to massively move  people. Let’s put the power of the best brains and tech, and platforms on the planet at the mission for doing good.”

SXSW top dog Hugh Forrest had warned the audience about the deep human impact, and the profound empathic powers of some of this year’s topics and line-up. Creativity, and social technology as a vehicle for humanity, a railway to the future.

I looked left and right. Not a dry eye in the audience. This was day one. This was the first session. My phone never felt heavier. I swear I could hear it hum and whisper…

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