Filmmakers to Founders - the women changing the refugee crisis into an opportunity.

By Megan Towle

All great ideas a born with a lot of hard work, a fair amount of luck, and a little wine.

Two years ago, Megan Majd was awarded the Davis Projects for Peace Grant. With it, she traveled Europe with the World Wide Tribe, a nonprofit that raises awareness of refugee issues through film. She spent two weeks in France and Greece, and filmed a documentary and a few short films. Once she had the opportunity to meet and document the refugees behind the crisis she knew she had to come back.

In the fall of 2016, Megan founded the Refugee Relief Project. The Refugee Relief Project set out to create a full feature documentary on the stories of refugees living in Greece, while bringing resources and money to grassroots community organizations working through the crisis. With a few social media posts and some impressive word of mouth, 8 women from a variety of backgrounds and locations volunteered their time and resources to who raise over $27k to bring this vision to life.

In March 2017, the Refugee Relief Project arrived in Greece. Over many dinners, glasses of Greek wine, and long conversations with refugees and volunteers alike, we learned the resounding challenge for refugees with asylum in Greece is access to employment. Because the current unemployment rate for Greek citizens is around 30%, the vast majority of refugees in Greece are unable to work, even though they are technically eligible with their legal status.

As we met more and more young refugees with excellent english skills, an idea began to form. In the US, when a few of us women were running low on spending money, we would complete small projects on UpWork, an online freelancing platform. Freelancing has allowed our members of our team to work from any place at any time, and have money placed directly into our bank accounts. Why couldn’t a refugee do the same? We arrived back in the states and began the post production phase of the film, but tested our theory with a refugee friend of ours we had met in Athens. He translated some of our Arabic interviews through google docs, using his tablet and wifi. He was able to execute this task extraordinarily well, we paid him for his work, and the idea was set in motion.

While the film team has continued working through post production, Megan continued researching, networking, and communicating with refugees to find a way to make digital work widely accessible. Over a few wine filled google hangouts with some of the original Refugee Relief Project members, we crafted a plan beyond our film to create a sustainable impact

Most refugees have smartphones, tablets or access to a computer through local community centers, and nearly all have the desire to work. We began building a plan to educate refugees in digital work, including programming and web developement for more qualified refugees. For less qualified or educated refugees, we built a mobile platform to connect them to a specific type of digital work, called microwork, literally meaning small work. Microwork tasks are simple, digital tasks that require a human eye. Examples include verifying that user generated content doesn’t contain spam or labeling an image for a machine learning application.With a plan to train and employ refugees from all skill levels in a variety of digital work opportunities, Megan was accepted into GSV Labs Pioneer Accelerator, and Harmoni was born.

Our team is made up of volunteers from Refugee Relief Project and from other members of our community that have a passion for using business to create positive change. We are currently building our mobile platform, preparing for our pilot program this fall, and connecting to clients who have a need for digital workers. For more information, please see www.harmoniapp.com and reach out if you have any interest in our work. We would love to tell you more.

Megan Majd