25/12/2016 17:20 GMT | Updated 26/12/2017 05:12 GMT

Open Sourcing Our Values

mindscanner via Getty Images

tech for good

A shared approach to tech in the refugee crisis.

"I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people."

Eduardo Galeano

Well over a million people have walked, swam, and crawled to the EU over the past year. And the numbers keep growing. Despite a rise in anti-migration policies, despite the legitimisation of hate crimes, people keep on coming to Europe.

Why? Because they see no other option. This you have heard about.

What you may not have heard about is the tremendous groundswell of tech innovation in response to the refugee crisis. In a historically unprecedented humanitarian response, developers all over have come up with a solution for pretty much every refugee-related challenge you can think of: asylum information at your fingertips; search and rescue; jobs; translation; moveable shelters.

I'm one of these thousands of individuals. Beyond the obvious challenge of trying to launch a new tech platform, I find myself getting bogged down in the complexity of it all from a moral standpoint.

From data privacy to not wanting to profit off of the backs of anyone - I know that good intentions aren't always enough.

The vast majority of us in this emerging field are operating out of humanitarian principles -- we mean well, but we are navigating uncharted waters. Out of our infancy and into "year two" it's time for us to agree to some core values in order effectively and ethically harness this innovation. It's time to learn from those who came before us, and initiatives like the Principles of Digital Development.

So here's an attempt to start a conversation on common values in this work.

Solidarity not Charity

When my mother was a little girl, one of her best friends came up to her out of the blue and said, "My daddy said that I can't play with you any more because you are Jewish."

I was lucky enough to escape that kind of overt anti-semitism growing up. But now, every day we hear about little girls and boys all over the world who are being told "I can't play with you, you are Muslim."

Consider this image of primary school children in Pennsylvania skyping with Syrian children in a refugee camp in Greece. The U.S. kids sent over a suitcase of art supplies to the camp in Greece, and followed it up with a video chat.


This conversation took place a few weeks ago, just after the U.S. elected a president based on hatred, while bombs fell on Aleppo. The children are teaching each other basic Arabic and English, eating pizza, chatting sports.

But most of all, they are making the human connections that are essential to growing into tolerant, global citizens. It's this kind of dialogue that eliminates the fear of "the other". This is not "giving" or "helping" but rather, a mutual exchange made possible by the simple application of existing technologies.

When we stand up for justice, whether it be marching from Berlin to Aleppo, writing a letter to combat hate speech, or developing an app for the safe integration of refugees, we all benefit.

We act out of a recognition of our interdependency as human beings confronting global challenges. We also act because we know that child could be ours.

We must build our tech from this vantage point of solidarity. Design and development to tackle the refugee crisis is not an act of giving, but rather, an acknowledgement of our shared humanity.

Making it up as We Go

"Refugee-related tech" is an emerging field. We're all just learning, and making mistakes as we go. It's time to collaborate across sectors. Our apps may wither away. Our websites may pass on beyond the cloud. Our relationships, however, have to the potential to transcend the specific nature of today's silver bullet solution.

At NeedsList we have taken a stab at making our values of open source, mutual aid, and transparency explicit from the get-go. We are actively seeking other models that bring together to learn from, network with, and collectively develop standards.

A longer version of this article appeared on the our blog with some suggested guidelines. We don't all have to agree on everything, but perhaps we can agree on a core set of values to serve as touch-points along the way. What are your thoughts? Let us know.

Photo creditL Amanda Levinson

HuffPost UK Tech is running a two-week focus on our Tech For Good campaign, which aims to highlight the technology that is driving social change and making a positive, long-lasting difference to our world. If you'd like to blog on our platform around this topic, email with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about.