What We Learned from Effect.org in Athens

The tech task force returned to Athens for a meeting of minds, bringing their skills and know-how to Europe’s refugee response. Last week, Campfire Innovation welcomed an Effect.org expedition.

What is that?

A group of people working in large companies like Google, Salesforce & Autodesk, dedicating a week to travel to Greece, learn more about refugee response and work with selected small organisations to overcome challenges in fundraising, recruiting and use of technology. They visit camps, spend time with volunteers and refugees and give their expertise to help us all do more.

In the short time we spent all together, the real value came from the willingness of this group to be open-minded and understand and fully commit their very impressive skills and expertise to the refugee cause.

Nobody asked them to come all the way here, nobody told them to give up their time, families, comforts, their bubbles and echo chambers. But they came.

Here is what we learned from our time with them.

We have to keep talking about refugees & migration

Most of the participants had some volunteering experience back home, a lot of them with refugees. But, even in this group that had chosen to come to Greece specifically for this issue, few knew of the nuances and challenges refugees and volunteer organisations face every day: the growing arrivals, the confusion around asylum procedures, the slow pace of relocation, the trauma, the burn outs…

These things are practically never covered. It is our job as an organisation and our duty as a community of humanitarians, activities, volunteers, refugees, donors…to keep talking, keep raising awareness, keep drawing attention to a situation which, 2 years on, is still happening.

It’s time to redefine the word “crisis”

A lot of people come expecting to see the images media have thrown at them: the boats, the large queues at the borders, the crying babies…It’s September 2017. More than 2 years since the huge spike in arrivals. The pace is slower, the emergency is finished.

What they will find is something different, but just as heartbreaking: thousands of people waiting, struggling to build a life, stuck in limbo. And we saw first hand how affected everyone from the Effect expedition got.

It’s the realisation that this is not a “crisis” any more but it is still a challenge, for refugees, for locals, for the hundreds of aid workers and volunteers on the ground every day.

It’s the realisations that this is so much bigger.

With a predicted 250 million people displaced by 2050…the migration crisis will continue to be part of our lives. Maybe not in Greece, maybe not in Italy, but somewhere. Populations will move.

Maybe it will be conflict or climate change or oppressive regimes. Whatever causes migration, we cannot keep dealing with it with quick fixes or bandaids…We need real solutions that guarantee dignity, safety and fairness. We need policies, tools and systems that will be effective and will not break down under large numbers.

And we need to start building them today.

We need to reflect & plan

For Campfire Innovation, the most important contribution from the two groups from Effect.org working with us was their curiosity, their questions, their willingness to go deep into understanding the refugee situation, our work but also what we are fighting to achieve in the future.

Any grassroots organisation, independent team or volunteer group suffers from having to constantly be on the go. If we get a new idea for a great solution, we start implementing at the same time as everything else because things don’t stop.

It’s like learning to row a boat while building the boat, you are in a hurricane and the sea is lava.

That means there is hardly time to think about your activities, to assess what works and what doesn’t, to plan ahead, fundraise ahead…But we have to! More than ever we need to think of the winter ahead, the plan for supporting thousands of children as they go to school, to find ways of collaborating to share resources now that large NGOs are scaling back…

Campfire Innovation is often the sounding board for other teams. We make a point to help the helpers, look at how teams operate and brainstorm with them.

But somewhere along the line, we sometimes forget to do it for ourselves. Having Effect with us was an amazing opportunity to stop and think, be happy for what we do well and ruthless about where we struggle.

We are very thankful for the strategy plan that came out of this work and it’s already being a huge help as we put in practice the first few steps.

There are people willing to help

The most impressive thing about the whole expedition is how willing people are to help. They see the value in the work of smaller organisations and understand how much their contribution, the things that seem so easy for them to do, can make a huge difference for us.

In the space of 2 days, our whole database was reorganised and turned into an easily usable series of forms. This in turn is affecting how we collect information and how we start using it, searching for patterns, identifying new connections we can make.

Beyond just that, it was so heartwarming to find so many people willing to continue helping beyond this week, thinking about already coming back, suggesting connections and ideas for the future, not just for Campfire Innovation but for many other teams too.

Seeing migration first hand, meeting refugees, understanding the contribution of civil society response, it’s a huge wake up call. It’s the same “aha” moment that brought so many of us to where we are today.

And it is encouraging and inspiring to see others become engaged it, people who could choose to ignore this problem (because they can) jumping right in.

On behalf of Campfire Innovation, to the Effect group: thank you for not sitting idle. Thank you for your help.

To the grassroots teams, volunteers, independent initiatives…your work matters and people care. They are out there, trying to make sense of what the news are telling them. If we work together, we can create the solutions that will provide refugees with dignity and humanity in the worse moments.