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Building bridges, one byte at a time

A Microsoft-led event seeks to bring migrants and locals together

A connection exercise between Microsoft and local refugee NGOs.

A connection exercise between Microsoft and local refugee NGOs.

Technology is often indispensable for refugees who try increasingly to build bridges with society, but lack of funding and networking can cut short their efforts.

So the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Microsoft Malta have joined forces to organise an event for refugee-led NGOs and communities to discuss what type of support could back up their attempts at social inclusion.

The event has become an annual one for Microsoft. Called Tech4Good, it seeks to address various Maltese NGOs and expose them to technology that could help them achieve better results and operate more efficiently.

To date, Microsoft has donated over €2 million worth of software to more than 40 NGOs in Malta.

The multinational technology company has had “ample opportunity” to understand how vital NGOs are for the local community, according to Citizenship Manager Angela Micallef.

Microsoft has donated €2 million in software to NGOs

Meanwhile, UNHCR tries to collaborate with stakeholders, including those within the private sector, to improve the lives of refugees in the community. “In recent years, we have noticed that a number of refugees are trying to organise themselves into associations and voluntary organisations,” Fabrizio Ellul, Public Information Associate at UNHCR, told this newspaper.

Commending Microsoft’s willingness to support to the refugee community, he expressed hope that more organisations in the private sector take the initiative and support individuals who are fleeing war and persecution.

Asked about the local refugee NGOs’ main technological challenges, Mr Ellul said there were a number of issues not solely related to technology.

“Malta still lacks an integration framework so there are a number of gaps that need to be addressed.

“However, we are glad to observe that refugees want to engage in the conversation on social inclusion in Malta, including through technology.”

Very often such a conversation tends to be a top-to-bottom one in terms of policy, with the refugee voice often being either ignored or neglected, he added.

“Refugee-led organisations are becoming very aware that they need to engage with the public to build bridges and mend fences. The use of technology provides the right channel to communicate such ideas.”

Mr Ellul noted that the method that engages with partners technologically put refugee communities into a direct engagement with stakeholders. This allowed them a better understanding of the refugee communities’ training needs and the context of refugees living in Malta.

When technology meets NGOs

The Microsoft Citizenship programme has allowed the OASI Foundation access to software that was otherwise inaccessible due to low funding. Through Microsoft’s assistance, the NGO, which works on prevention, intervention, treatment and rehabilitation of people suffering from dependencies, has reached ICT standards that were before considered unreachable.

Eyetech Ltd and Microsoft helped the Malta Red Cross adopt Office 365 to improve communications prior and during rescue operations.

This upgrade helped the association centralise its communication systems, making it easier for volunteers and personnel to deliver the required assistance. The Malta Red Cross also uses Skype for Business in accident-simulation exercises, especially in circumstances when various professional bodies are involved.

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