After a 15-minute opening talk by South by Southwest chief programming officer Hugh Forrest, SXSW 2018 started in earnest with an on-point talk by French activist Joséphine Goube, the CEO of Techfugees, called “Let’s Tech the Borders Down.”
Since it formed, the group has expanded to 25 chapters around the world, hosted more than 45 hackathons and created 50 projects to help refugees with tools such as free Wi-Fi, blockchain-enabled cash and coding boot camps to help migrants learn tech skills and integrate into societies.
Goube discussed her own life story growing up in Europe and seeing how the crossing between Calais and London increasingly became more perilous for migrants over time and how she began to see problems as more money was being spent on keeping immigrants out than helping them. She was also outraged that citizens from countries have access to travel to more countries based only on their nationality. “I was able to enjoy much of this wealth because of my passport. Nobody choose where they're born,” Goube said.
Goube warned that climate change is causing worsening conditions and more crisis situations for immigrants, but that technology offers a way that concerned people can help these populations. Through trial and error, she says, Techfugees learned what works and what doesn’t.
“You have to go on the ground and get a sense of what the real problems are for refugees,” she said. You do it with them, give them ownership of the project.”
In his greeting talk, Forrest reminded attendees of the event’s Code of Conduct, shared insight on some of the new SXSW navigations tools and said SXSW continues to have a core mission of helping creative people achieve their goals. He said that Goube’s opening talk was in keeping with SXSW’s themes of inclusion, diversity and technology in the service of social good.
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