I took the above picture during my 2015 trip to Berlin, I think it sets the tone for the story nicely. Previously I wrote about the educational startup, HackYourFuture and their efforts to help refugees and asylum seekers gain valuable skills as they wait for their lives to become more stable. Today’s Berlin-based startup, Refugees on Rails is along the same lines.
I thought it was fitting as my thesis deals (in part) with the engagement of non-traditional actors in refugee integration and because I’m actually writing this article from Berlin right now, to talk about a really cool Berlin-based startup.
Anyway, let’s go ahead and introduce today’s startup. Refugees on Rails is based out of Berlin but they also operate in Cologne, Munich, Leipzig, Aschaffenburg, Düsseldorf, and Hamburg. They work directly with refugees to assist them with coding classes or they work with IT professionals and organizations.
The benefits are two-fold, especially when it comes to Berlin’s startup scene. Developers are badly needed in Berlin’s quickly growing startup scene, however, the supply of developers is overwhelmed by the demand. Since they’re in such short supply, another issue is that programmers who are available and highly skilled are so skilled that they are often too expensive for entrepreneurs to hire meaning many startups are stuck. This is where Refugees on Rails can help.
On the other side, refugees, who often have to overcome language barriers, gaps in qualification, degrees and education that aren’t recognized and deep trauma are in desperate need for assistance getting off the ground. This could mean anything from assistance apply for jobs to developing relevant skills for a whole new job market so assistance provided by Refugees on Rails isn’t just good news for companies, it’s good news for refugees.
Refugees are too often seen only as a problem within Europe. We want to prove that our new neighbors offer an opportunity for Europe to enrich its culture and empower its economy. Our aim is to help refugees to build and expand their qualification as software developers and provide them with valuable skills that will improve their chances on the labor market.
How does it work? Refugees on Rails offers assistance in a few different areas. First, they provide free courses and coding information online and secondly, they assist businesses and organizations in helping the refugees that they work with. Through their educational partnership with Ruby on Rails, Refugees on Rails provides access to their program called The Firehose Project. In this project, users are able to grasp the basic concepts of web programming and gain experience. They learn some basic tools for programming as well as a set of best practices for troubleshooting.
The program lasts 3 months, in which the user has access to interactive lessons and videos to help them build a modern website, among other things. A large part of the curriculum is free due to the partnership between the two groups and programs can be accessed through Ruby on Rails. On their website they also have some other free or reduced-priced resources for users to learn to code online.
The second part of the startup deals with connecting refugees and organizations together for other training opportunities. For this, Refugees on Rails invites IT-students, professionals, and organizations to contact them directly. They teach organizations how to acquire donated laptops for the refugees they work with, how to identify refugees who may best benefit from free or reduced-priced classes and how to prepare the laptops for use.
Companies receive assistance with setting up donation drives to receive laptops. A special script is provided by Refugees on Rails to help companies configure and set up Ubuntu on the donated laptops so the computers are ready to be used.
Finally, their assistance helps companies determine who is best suited for the coding programs. This is integral because, in the end, the goal is integration. The teaching and projects that could help one person integrate for instance into the labor market and into German society, vary from person to person. Since donations may be limited, it’s also important to ensure that resources are allocated the best way possible.
Refugees can also contact Refugees on Rails directly to find mentors in their city who can teach them how to code. If an organization isn’t listed on Refugees on Rails’ cities page, refugees can suggest preferred organizations and Refugees on Rails will provide the laptop and assistance to begin the training program.
You are currently on a journey of a lifetime and we are here to help. Refugees on Rails provides laptops, technical courses and workshops and, importantly, a network of locals to learn from and share experiences – to welcome you into this adventure and help make it a bit easier and, if we are lucky, enjoyable.
The efforts of Refugees on Rails and other startups assisting refugees or focusing on the greater good bring to life the message behind the picture I took, some 2.5 years ago. It doesn’t take a massive score of people with endless funding to make a difference. All it takes are small people, small actors, startups, entrepreneurs and anyone who wants to help. In the end "many small people who in many small places do many small things…can alter the face of the world."