By Yasmin Morais
CAS’19 | International Relations
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of blog posts that showcase the work of BU teams competing for the Hult Prize.
RefEd is an application designed to reduce the gaps of access to education among refugee children. It started in the fall of 2017 with three students at BU. Now, we have a pilot version that we are hoping to test next year and our team has grown to seven members.
We came up with RefEd while working on a class assignment. We were challenged by our professor to think of possible solutions to real world problems.
In our case, the problem was the lack of education among refugee children. In 2017, according to a recent report by UNHCR, there were more than 4 million refugee children with no access to education. This number represents an increase of half a million refugees compared to the previous year.
As we researched on the topic and talked to specialists in the field, we were shocked by this reality. So we decided to help solve the problem by using technology, as we believe it is a powerful tool to reach more children and to give them a sense of normality and connectivity.
Along the way, we have faced the same difficulties as any new venture, such as lack of funding and human capital and the challenge of balancing other time-consuming activities with RefEd work. All these obstacles taught us about persistence, passion and commitment.
My favorite challenge was learning to “learn on the go”. Since neither of us had created an application designed for social impact, we felt (and still feel) like we have jumped off a cliff and we are growing wings on the way down, like that famous quote says. We had to learn many new skills, to improve skills we already had and to share our knowledge with each other. As a result, our team grew stronger, our idea became more concrete and our passion for the cause increased.
Personally, RefEd gave me a new perspective on my professional and academic life. It taught me to be driven by a passion for learning. It taught me to be flexible but focused; to be proactive while keeping a team spirit and to have ambitious goals while celebrating small victories. I am certain that I will continue to put those lessons into practice in work, school and beyond.
In the future, we would like to expand RefEd in at least three ways. First, we want to introduce more content into our app. Second, we want to reach more regions, countries and continents. Third, we want to influence the refugee education regime, by changing perceptions on refugee education and influencing local policy on the topic.
In order to do all of that, we will need more people in our team. In the future, we also plan to recruit passionate, competent and dedicated BU students and alumni to work with us!
Lastly, if I could give an advice to other students developing their own projects, I would refer to my favorite quote. It is from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first African female president. She says “if your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” My final thought is: dream big and to transform those dreams into goals. With an open heart, a focused mind, a good character and connections with like-minded people, you can do anything!