REFUNITE

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REFUNITE
REFUNITE LOGO.png
Founded 2008
Founders Christopher Mikkelsen & David Mikkelsen
Type REFUNITE (Refugees United) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit working to provide refugee families that have lost contact with each other during escape from conflict with an anonymous platform to reconnect.
Purpose Humanitarian
Location
Mission "To help refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) reconnect with lost loved ones"
Website Refunite.org

REFUNITE (Refugees United) is a non-profit organization established by two Danish brothers, David and Christopher Mikkelsen with the stated mission to "help refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) search for their missing loved ones." It focuses on online and mobile solutions to help families reconnect. Families can search for their missing loved ones using various touch points, including web via https://m.refunite.org, SMS, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), and by calling a helpline. The REFUNITE family reconnection platform allows users to register, search for and message their missing loved ones that have also signed up on the platform.

REFUNITE works through partnerships with like-minded individuals, organizations, corporations, and humanitarian agencies. The headquarters are located in Copenhagen, Denmark with the main technology development lab and operations being based out of Nairobi, Kenya.

History[edit]

REFUNITE was founded in 2008 by two Danish brothers, David and Christopher Mikkelsen, after their personal journey trying to reconnect a young, Afghan refugee with his family. In their search, the two brothers discovered that existing family tracing programs lacked cross-border, collaborative technology and the process of family tracing was also often tied to cumbersome procedures and paperwork.

This is what prompted David and Christopher to develop an global, centralized and free platform that would allow refugees and other Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to search and reconnect with their missing family and loved ones. REFUNITE empowers refugees and separated families to search, connect and communicate with family and friends they have lost along the way. The organization provides the family reconnection service, but puts it in the hands of its users to conduct the actual search, thus democratizing access to family tracing.

Out of the 65.3 million[1] forcibly displaced people worldwide, many do not have access to Internet and have very basic and simple mobile phones. REFUNITE focuses on making their service available to as many users as possible and through various touch points, from the very low-end, basic technology to the more sophisticated one.

Together with Ericsson, REFUNITE has partnered with a global coalition of mobile network operators. Through these partnerships, the organization is able to communicate directly with millions of forcibly displaced people through SMS and make access to the platform free of charge. So far, there are over 600,000 people have registered on the REFUNITE platform and keep searching for their missing loved ones every day.

Thousands of new users are coming on to the REFUNITE platform every week from all over the world. Part of the organization's effort to make this service available to all is making sure that it is available in as many languages as possible. REFUNITE is constantly adding new languages to the platform, with its web service currently being available in twelve languages, including English, Swahili, Somali, Arabic, French, Congolese Swahili, Hindi, Urdu, Pashto, Kurdish, Dari, and Tagalog.

REFUNITE's Technology[edit]

REFUNITE Outreach Volunteer helping a beneficiary register via mobile phone

Web[edit]

The family reconnection platform can be accessed through the official website or straight from https://m.refunite.org/. The search tool is available in twelve languages, including English, Swahili, Somali, Arabic, French, Congolese Swahili, Hindi, Urdu, Pashto, Kurdish, Dari, and Tagalog. The website can be accessed by anyone with Internet connection.

SMS[edit]

In countries where REFUNITE has partnerships with local mobile network operators, the platform is accessible for free via SMS. Beneficiaries with even very basic feature phones can register and interact with the platform without access internet and at no cost. The SMS service is currently available in Somalia. Subscribers to certain mobile networks can sign up for REFUNITE by responding to a message sent by REFUNITE. Once they reply, they will be taken through a set of steps that will register them for the service, fill in their profile, let them search for missing loved ones and if they find who they are looking for, message them.

USSD[edit]

REFUNITE’s family reconnection platform can accessible via Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), making it accessible from even an entry-level mobile phone. This service is currently available in Kenya. Users can search by using a certain shortcode. They can also send and receive messages from other users straight through USSD.

Data collection and Privacy[edit]

Users provide only the information they feel comfortable and safe enough to share, which gives them the option of staying anonymous. While providing a phone number is necessary to sign up, this number is kept hidden and only used for signing in via our web service or to receive messages straight to your phone. While REFUNITE encourages users to provide as much information as possible, they understand that sharing certain information causes a safety concern for some. Therefore, users choose what public information they want to share, giving them the option to, for example, have their profile show personal information that only their family or closest friends would recognize, e.g. birthmarks, favorite foods, or other person-specific information.

Outreach Volunteers[edit]

REFUNITE's Outreach Volunteers help beneficiaries register, search, and even share their reconnection story with the organization.

REFUNITE works with outreach volunteers in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. The organization has teamed up with UNHCR as well as other aid organizations operating in camps in order to train local refugees on REFUNITE’s technology, so these refugees can help others sign up. Many of the outreach volunteers, who are refugees themselves, are still looking for their own families as well, and are helping others while waiting to be reconnected. They walk around the camps promoting REFUNITE’s service and help anyone interested to register and search. They are some of the most important people to REFUNITE, as they are instrumental in advocating the service and help foster trust between the organization and its beneficiaries in the camps.

Films by REFUNITE[edit]

Lost and Found - The Story of Refugees United Created with MediaStorm

Estelle's Story Created with Ericsson and House of Radon

Ericsson and Refugees United, an Idea that Inspires

More videos on REFUNITE’s Vimeo page

Awards[edit]

World Economic Forum, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

Condé Nast, Vanity Fair and WIRED [2]

Award of Distinction in the category Digital Communities[3]

Lost and Found - The Story of Refugees United[4]

Lost and Found - The Story of Refugees United[5]

Partners[edit]

Corporate partners[edit]

REFUNITE’s corporate partners include, among others, mobile network operators that enable the organization to communicate directly with refugees and send text messages to their phones. REFUNITE’s partners are:

Free Basics by Facebook[edit]

In partnership with Internet.org by Facebook, REFUNITE's mobile search tool https://m.refunite.org is now accessible for free via Free Basics in 17 countries: Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, Chad, Algeria, Jordan, and Tanzania.

Humanitarian Partners[edit]

REFUNITE has partnered with a number of humanitarian organizations including the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Funders[edit]

REFUNITE is funded by the IKEA Foundation. They have also been funded by Omidyar Network, Maersk Foundation, Danfoss Foundation, LEGO Foundation, SAP and many others.

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html
  2. ^ http://www.vanityfair.com/Daring25
  3. ^ "Winners Prix Ars Electronica 2013". Ars Electronica Blog. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  4. ^ "Refugees United Receives a Lovie Award". Refunite Blog. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  5. ^ "Lost and Found – The story of Refugees United". Webbyawards.com. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  6. ^ "In-kind donations". Info.refunite.org. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 

External links[edit]