Expanding Tech Scholarship to Refugees and Immigrants
The American tech economy is in a unique position to enhance its prominence while positively affecting those who seek sanctuary on U.S. shores. Tech scholarship for refugees can be a pivotal social safety net that reflects community diversity and can lead to innovations that will improve the standard of living for all citizens. No industry is as well-equipped to coordinate and consolidate the work of international refugees as technology. Its perpetual potential for expansion creates an ongoing need for workers. And the industry’s pace of progress needs a reliable system of training and entrepreneurship.
We believe this need provides the crossroads where the goals of business and immigration converge. That’s why Coding Dojo, Jewish Family Service, and Community Credit Lab are partnering to provide tech training for refugees and immigrants. Our partnership can serve as a model for successfully training and integrating refugees into the workforce and providing tangible economic benefits to the American economy.
Refugees boost the national economy by strengthening the workforce and multiplying our nation’s capabilities. “Refugees could play a fundamental role in fostering international trade and investment,” according to Dany Bahar, a fellow of the Brookings Institute. “The faster they can integrate into the labor force, the faster they can become productive members of society.”
Many refugees already have high levels of knowledge and experience but are hampered in their home countries by inefficient or broken systems. Syria has a remarkably high rate of tech literacy and education, and a notable rate of homeland entrepreneurship. But the hostilities of the environment, coupled with inaction or indifference from the regimes they escape, eliminate their opportunities at home and leave their talents wasted. Still others have analogous skills and education—such as civil engineering, mechanical manufacturing, or communications—that can be easily transferred into meaningful tech careers in areas where they will be supported.
Other areas have embraced refugees and coordinated employment programs to benefit both emigrants and locally based economies. The U.N. reports that a Mexican program to employ those fleeing violence and persecution has created a “win-win situation” for all entities. Syrian refugees in Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp have created an astonishing self-sufficient society, thanks to the camp’s notably high percentage of entrepreneurs; furthermore, Syrian refugees have invested between $1.8 to $2.3 billion in combined capital to the economies of Egypt and Turkey.
These programs are the result of governments proactively pursuing collaboration with refugees because of the prospect of mutual advantage and a recent track record of success.
A Curriculum Framework
There are already several models in existence around the world that provide ideas for tech scholarship: the EU’s Project MEnt mentorship program, France and Germany’s Human Safety Net entrepreneurial incubator, and many other startups and initiatives. A successful curriculum in America would consist of these steps:
- Initial Training. Refugees use their experience and rough tools to brainstorm new ideas, sketch out plans and scenarios, and develop a business plan that covers execution and monetization of their concepts.
- Incubation. In concentrated environments and workshops, students intensely focus on and accelerate their ideas through scenarios and manufacturing prototypes, while learning peripheral concepts vital to effective business management such as marketing, networking, financing, and relevant technology.
- Mentorship. Trainees are paired with businesspeople who have achieved success on their own terms, to personally guide them through individual experiences, strategies, and problem solving unique to their situations.
- Pitch development. With all these elements and prototypes in hand, students learn to formulate and present their business ideas to investors or possible corporate partners, emphasizing how their creations could impact consumers and industries while generating profit.
There’s a long history of transformative American innovations steered or facilitated by refugees. Google founder Sergey Brin was a refugee from the Soviet Union; Intel CEO Andrew Grove fled Hungary; and Steve Jobs’ father, Abdulfattah Jandali, arrived in the United States as a Syrian emigrant. Modern life is inconceivable without any of those entities. Innovations from these sources—such as WhatsApp, founded by Ukrainian refugee Jan Koum—persist to this day.
The post-Millennial generation will be the most ethnically diverse and well-educated in recorded history. But with certain adverse global situations nowhere near settlement, society still will have to push the cause of human rights forward with humanitarian response and compassionate solutions. Meaningful support for refugees is a means for saving some lives and bettering all. We’re convinced it’s a direction that deserves—and will reward—a national investment.
Richard Wang is a results-driven entrepreneur with verifiable success achieving revenue, profit, and growth objectives within start-up, turnaround, and rapid-change environments. He currently serves as the CEO and co-founder of Coding Dojo, a technology education company that transforms lives through programming literacy.
Paige Vogel is committed and passionate about helping vulnerable individuals and families in the Puget Sound region achieve well-being, health, and stability. At Jewish Family Service, Vogel serves as the Economic Integration Program Manager, leading a team of Employment Specialist and Employment Case Managers working to provide economic self-sufficiency, long-term career opportunities, and career laddering to refugee, immigrant, and asylee populations.