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Cisco Is Leveraging Technology To Empower Refugees With Secure and Equitable Access to Information, Resources, and Opportunities

By Sue-Lynn Hinson, Julie Rose, Hoa Tran

Cisco Is Leveraging Technology To Empower Refugees With Secure and Equitable Access to Information, Resources, and Opportunities

By Sue-Lynn Hinson, Julie Rose, Hoa Tran

Published 07-09-24

Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.

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Participants engage in a skills training course together

The Social Impact Partner Spotlight series highlights various Cisco non-profit organization partners that are helping transform the lives of individuals and communities. This blog features Cisco’s partnership with International Rescue Committee and Ocalenie, highlighting the amazing work these organizations are doing to support and empower refugees, migrants, and internally displaced persons worldwide.

World Refugee Day, observed annually on June 20, stands as a solemn reminder of the resilience and courage of millions who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, persecution, or natural disasters. This global observance provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the hardships faced by refugees and to reaffirm our commitment to fostering a more inclusive and compassionate world. According to a recent United Nations report, forced displacement rose to 120 million in May 2024 (from 114 million in 2023), marking the 12th consecutive annual increase – a result of ongoing crises and newly emerging and evolving conflicts.

World Refugee Day 2024 emphasizes showing support for refugees in the hopes of creating a more welcoming global community. This blog highlights two of Cisco’s key partnerships that through early-stage investment by the Cisco Foundation, have enabled these partners to design, validate, replicate, and scale tech-delivered solutions that are driving impact to support refugees, migrants, and internally displaced persons.

International Rescue Committee (Signpost and SAFE)

International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Cisco have formed a strategic partnership to help people displaced by conflict and disaster worldwide to survive, recover and rebuild their lives. With support from Cisco’s Global Impact Grant program, IRC is developing technology-based innovations to improve access to life-saving information and provide refugees with a path toward long-term resilience and economic security. Together, IRC and Cisco are working to create more durable, scalable, and sustainable impacts in the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. This World Refugee Day, we highlight two of IRC’s initiatives, Signpost and Supporting Access to Financial Empowerment (SAFE), that showcase the incredible work being done to support refugees worldwide.

Signpost

“Technology has the power to connect and provide lifesaving information. Enabled by the IRC’s partnership with Cisco, Signpost digital help centers allow people impacted by conflict, disasters, poverty and violence to access essential services, solve complex problems, and make informed decisions on the issues that matter most to them. As we scale the Signpost program and leverage technology for good, we are grateful for Cisco’s continued partnership.” —Andre Heller, Signpost Program Director

Accurate, reliable, and relevant information is vital in times of crisis. However, humanitarian crisis communications are often provider-centric, short-lived and not scalable, limiting people’s ability to make informed decisions. Signpost is a scalable community-led responsive service that delivers life-saving information and links to resources through staff equipped with secure digital tools, digital channels and social media. It provides refugees with timely, actionable, verified information on the platforms they are already using, in their preferred languages, empowering them to make critical decisions on the issues that matter most to them.

Cisco has been supporting Signpost since 2015 when it was first launched as a joint effort between IRC and Mercy Corps. At the time there were 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. With the ever-increasing number and severity of crises contributing to a growing number of people on the move, IRC’s work is more critical than ever, and we have continued to support their expansion of Signpost.

By the numbers:

  • Signpost has now been implemented in more than 30 countries across 5 continents and continues to expand.
  • Signpost has over 16 million unique users and has reached 122M people with information products – and is used by many international and local NGOs and humanitarian aid agencies.
  • Signpost supports more than 15 languages.

SAFE

“Through SAFE, I was connected with a financial coach who helped me navigate the process of securing a car loan, and provided support and advice as I launched my own business in the design and build industry for residential properties. Thanks to the support of the IRC program and my dedicated financial coach, I am now able to see a better route to financial stability and business ownership. I continue to use the IRC program to provide support and guidance to other Afghan refugees in my community, helping them navigate the challenges of starting anew in a foreign land.” —Nazila, SAFE Client

In 2023, US State Department’s refugee program was able to settle 60,000 refugees in the U.S. Meanwhile, an additional 300-500K humanitarian arrivals came to the U.S. in 2023, most of whom speak Spanish.

Most of the financial resources currently available in the U.S. are in English and these resources often assume existing knowledge of U.S. financial systems (for example, how to open a bank account; how to apply for a car loan; when and how to file taxes; and the best ways to build credit) and do not account for some of the barriers immigrant communities face in accessing financial services.

Launched in 2022, the Supporting Access to Financial Empowerment (SAFE) is an initiative of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and IRC’s Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO), a nationally recognized Community Development Financial Institution, to empower newly arrived families as they begin their journey to financial stability and economic security in their new homes across the U.S. It features an online platform and financial coaches to serve the specific financial education needs of refugees, asylees, and vulnerable immigrants. With the initiative’s launch showing tremendous success within the first two years, Cisco made it possible for SAFE to expand from serving Afghan populations to wider demographics, including Spanish-speaking clients and Ukrainian refugees. This partnership has not only made it possible for the IRC to sustain and advance quality financial capability services for diverse new American communities but has also demonstrated consistent commitment to supporting research and learning in this space.

Through its partnership with Cisco, SAFE already has supported more than 2,000 refugees, asylees, and vulnerable immigrants in just under two years – validating both the effectiveness and future potential for scaling this initiative to more newcomers.

By the numbers

Last year alone, the SAFE program saw:

  • 2,342 clients receive financial coaching
  • 982 loans approved, totaling approximately $6.9 million, with a 97% repayment rate
  • As expected for newcomers, 76% of participants had no FICO score, due to insufficient credit history. After coaching, 71% of participants had a FICO score averaging 702.
  • Increased net worth for participants – an average of $5,500 per participant.

Get involved:

We invite you to support the IRC’s mission, amplify refugee voices, and act. Together, we can make a significant impact and support refugees in building a brighter future.

  • Volunteer: By volunteering with the IRC, you can play a critical role in helping refugees and immigrants thrive in the United States.
  • Act with us: Join thousands of IRC supporters who have called their representatives, written letters, or shared our campaigns.
  • Make a planned gift: A gift through your estate plan will help ensure aid to people displaced by conflict and crisis well into the future.

Ocalenie Foundation

“Building a new life in a foreign country is a complex challenge, especially for those facing language barriers, financial insecurity, and job market discrimination. At the Ocalenie Foundation, we support migrants and refugees in navigating various aspects of life, including securing employment that utilizes their skills and qualifications, allowing them to achieve a dignified standard of living.” —Kalina Czwarnóg, Ocalenie Board Member

Poland has been one of the key transit points for many migration routes among refugees fleeing political and social crises in the region. The Ocalenie Foundation was established 23 years ago with the mission to foster a multicultural, inclusive society rooted in human rights principles and to support migrants, including refugees, in their integration. In response to the growing number of people seeking protection in European countries, Ocalenie, in partnership with Cisco Foundation, is developing digital and skills training courses to help bridge a service gap and empower people to access online services and navigate their new environment and job market. To learn more about the support Ocalenie provides, check out this recent video about career counselling Ocalenie provided to refugees.

By the numbers:

  • 175 refugees served to date
  • 80% of participants to complete courses and obtain course certificates, thus increasing competency and employability
  • 50% of participants retain or advance in employment, with 20% experiencing wage increases
  • 20% of participants secure employment

Get involved:

  • Donations are a crucial source of funding for Ocalenie Foundation’s ongoing work. Recurring contributions are precious, providing much-needed stability as the cost of integration activities for refugees in Poland largely falls on NGOs.
  • Ocalenie Foundation’s activities are largely supported by our volunteers who teach Polish language courses, help children with their homework, or support refugees in their everyday struggles. Volunteer opportunities can be found on their website.

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