Join the Insurgency of TechFugees Australia


Around 150 people descended on a suburban Library in the Western Sydney suburb of Liverpool on Saturday the 28th and Sunday the 29th of November 2015 to hack for better solutions to refugee settlement. In partnership with the Mayor of Liverpool City Council, Ned Manoun, two NGOs – Settlement Services International  and STTARTS and the tech and start up community, we collaborated with former refugees to co-design 11 outstanding solutions for refugee settlement in under 24 hours.

Inspired by Mike Butcher – TechCrunch, who founded, the now global movement,TechFugees, as the Tech and start up community’s response to the refugee crisis in Europe. It started with a tweet by Annie Parker, co-founder muru-D, she knows how to rally the right people and mobilise extraordinary support. Annie pinged Nicole Williamson goddess of tech and start up and I and we jumped on board without hesitation.

Then came an extraordinary response from start up and tech community – likes of tech guru Liz Buchanan, Frank Arrrigo (API Evangelist, Telstra), Phil Morle(Pollenizer), Alan, Jones (Blue Chilli) , Joanne Jacobs (Disruptors Handbook) ,Mon Wulff (StartUp Muster) , Claudia BL (StartUp Milkshake)  , Liz Jakubowski and Dean Economou (Data61), Ryan Cross  , Jack Skinner (MYOB) and Steve King (Atlassian) and the jewels of the crown – Shelli Trung (Angel Investor) and Michael Aschorobi (Google) both former refugees.

Ninja Organisers

The organising team was small but fierce-  I think its important to highlight the diverse skills and experience necessary to pull off a social hack and we had the best in every field. Frank Arrigo (API Evangelist, Telstra), Gordon Carr-Gregg took on the tech and DevPost logistics, Nicole managed the marketing and communications and social media, and logistics of the hack, taking care of participants, mentors, judges and judging criteria, Audrey Jean Baptiste (muru-D) and Jackie Coates (Telstra Foundation) managed all the nourishment and hydration of the hackers and former refugees. My role was largely the social design of the hack, the co-design with refugees and NGOs and the council. Annie was our director, stepping in when needed and doing so from holidays overseas , she got Mike Butcher’s support for us to use the brand of TechFugees and running one of the most successful start up accelerators Annie was a natural at taking participants through hack and pitch goals.

We had hackers from IBM, Telstra, Saleforce, Atlassian and MYOB and a few entrepreneurs and designers. We even had a hacker from New York who submitted his idea and answered judges questions on the phone and Anna and Ahmed who flew up from Melbourne  who went on to take second place with theirOurHome app connecting refugees with community through food occasions and events.

Strength in Diversity

The spirit of collaboration kicked in from day one, despite the fact that the majority of teams had never met before, the energy was magical. There is this extraordinary alchemy that happens at hackathons. People that are drawn to them have shared values or they wouldn’t bother to give up their weekend to spend it with a bunch of strangers. Hackers are committed to outcomes and they are the most generous and kind hearted people I have ever met.

Differences are a strength and I have yet to attend a hack without great diversity in skills, culture and religion.

It is astounding what happens when you throw bunch of unrelated people together and give them a limited amount of time to produce a result. Its even more amazing when you support them with some of the top tech and start up  mentors in the industry.  In the case of TechFugees every pitch was professional and polished, Annie who has seen hundreds of pitches was impressed with the caliber of the pitches. In all honesty the teams didnt have 48 hours – we started on Saturday around midday til 5pm and started 9am Sunday with submissions in by 3pm, so it is incredible that 11 quality ideas were developed and pitched at 4pm before an excited audience of 100 people.

Michael Ascharsobi from Google said ” I cant believe that some of the solutions respond to problems I had 15 years ago. That’s crazy we haven’t solved these problems yet.” I think Michael articulated what every person in the room was thinking, look at what we can do when bring together a different set of people to solve problems that affect peoples lives.

Social design hack

The alchemy of TechFugees Australia was in the social design,  we embedded beneficiary co-design and funding product development in the package of the hack. We framed the hack around 6 themes identified by the NGOs and had former refugees pitch their story and the teams formed around solving the refugee problems. The former refugees collaborated with entrepreneurs, designers and techs over the weekend to co-design solutions and the results were astounding submissions which can be found on DevPost.  The impressive $10,000 prize was sponsored by SSI and STARTS  with the generous mentoring from Pollenizer ensures that the winner is supported to develop the product to launch.  Our core team had diverse skills and reached out to the tech, start-up, NGO,  local government  and former refugee community – therein lies the magic of it all – collaboration.

3 steps to a social design hack

1. Partner with stakeholders                                                                                             2. Ensure that the beneficiary co-designs                                                                   3. Secure support to develop idea post hack
The TechFugee Australia spirit is the sum of every single person who participated, mentored, organised, cheered on from the sidelines, wrote articles and blogs and who followed our journey on Twitter and Facebook and our sponsors and partners who took a leap of faith in our social design method.


I know the SSI and STTARTS staff, clients and former refugees felt energised and renewed hope that there is a better way to design and solve problems through tech and start up and ultimately make it easier for refugees to settle in their new country.

The results 

The submissions addressed the themes of language acquisition, connecting to community, employment, vocational and occupational opportunities. Highlights for me included the vocational related – Bust the Bubbleconnecting professionals with skilled refugees and Skills Connect connecting companies with skills shortages to skilled refugees.

The winners were GoalifyOz a goal setting  app for case worker and refugee collaboration. They won $10,000 from SSI and STTARTS for the development of the app, and mentoring support from Pollenizer to incubate and accelerate the app. Second prize went to Our Table who got mentoring support from Data61 and Expert360. The Mayor of Liverpool Ned Manoun took on ArrivalHub , an app and website connecting new migrants to local services and businesses, and has offered his support to develop the app for Liverpool.  DocLink won the spirit of TechFugees Australia for designing an elegant tool connecting refugees to local bulk billing GPs and health services that provide language services.

A special mention to the lone hackers Patrick from NY who developedConneX accessible social networking for English language learners, and Jason Thomas from SBS who developed DocLink. The Star Trek Universal translator inspired app Sato  providing real time translation services.

Next Steps

Day 2 post hack we have linked winners to the prizes, and we are in discussions to run TechFugees for women and girls and one in Melbourne. We are pulling together our learnings  so that we can keep improving on the social design hacks.

                                                              You can keep up with TechFugees Australia on social media and DevPost. We are committed to run a number of social change hacks in 2016 so if you are interested in joining our insurgency to hack for social change then ping me@ChiefDisrupter

Anne-Marie Elias is a speaker and consultant in innovation and disruption for social change. She is an honorary Associate of the Centre for Local Government at UTS.

Anne-Marie has recently joined the Board of Western Sydney Women; the Australian Open Knowledge Foundation; and the Settlement Services International Foundation.

Follow Anne-Marie’s  journey of disruptive social innovation on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter or visit

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