By Alice Brennan from Goalify Oz
This weekend I went to my first ever Hackathon – #Hack4Refugees in Liverpool, Sydney – an event inspired by the success of the same event in the UK. It was way more exhausting and exciting and emotional than I expected. I left on Sunday with new friends, new ideas, and most humbling of all our team was given a $10,000 investment for Goalify Oz to develop our app idea with SSI and STARTTS, plus mentoring from industry experts Pollenizer. The challenge is on!
The hackathon took place over two days and was led by the people who would use the apps – refugees, former refugees, SSI and STARTTs staff, and representatives from Liverpool City Council (including Mayor Ned Manounn). Prior to the event, we were given information about the most common issues refugees face in Australia to help us think about solutions.
The Saturday began with introductions from the fabulous organisers, and an in-depth discussion of the experiences of former refugees, SSI case workers, and tech and hackathon experts.
The volume of information was almost overwhelming, but themes started to emerge. Refugees said they felt lost, they didn’t know how to progress and didn’t know if they were progressing. Many of them touched on highly complex needs including mental health, housing, education and employment. SSI case workers spoke about the volume of information that refugees receive, and how they work with people for 6 months to a year. Simon, a recently arrived refugee, requested some way of tracking and measuring progress. I felt discombobulated just hearing about the challenges of arriving in Australia.
On the train on the way over I had been mulling over ideas when I realised that I was struggling to think of a solution that would meet the needs of a really diverse group. The only commonality was the need to get established in a new country (which isn’t easy for any migrant – trust me!). I thought that a goal setting app could be good, as it has been used successfully to help another diverse group with complex needs – the long term unemployed. It was also the strategy I used to help myself recover from spending a very stressful and difficult year doing emergency aid work Japan, so I thought it could work.
Once we had spent a good hour splitting ourselves up into groups, the Goalify Oz team began fleshing out the idea. We had invaluable input from Simon, several of the SSI case workers and the amazing mentors. By the end of the day, we had an app idea, we understood the value of it to the user, and we had some paper wireframes. We wanted an app that helped people figure out the few disorienting weeks and use their strengths to create a life and a community in Australia.
Members of the Goalify Oz team discussing ideas in Liverpool City Library
At the end of Saturday, however, Victor and I had some conversations with case workers that made us rethink it. We had an app that helped refugees to set and reach goals, but the case workers explained that they actually do a similar job, and told us about the difficulties and challenges of their work. Their passion shone through and we felt really motivated to meet their needs too. Redesigning the idea was a scary thought though…
Overnight we had time to rethink and get some work done. By day 2 we had changed out approach and we had wireframes (in Arabic and English thanks to Imad), more accurate market research (thanks to Victor, Adam, Remi and Rachel), a skeleton presentation (thanks to David) and an idea for a pitch which Brander, Svitlana and myself developed.
We also got some advice from some Italian students, who thought the idea was “just beautiful” and would have been useful for them when they moved to Australia. This led to us coming up with ways to monetise the app by approaching users with similar needs, as well as the advertisers who want to reach them.
We had millions of ideas for features, applications, partnerships and styles, and it was a real challenge to keep our idea and pitch tight. The process was stressful and hard, and we relied on the guidance the mentors provided. Our absolute gratitude goes to Elizabeth Buchanan, Alan Jones, Joanne Jacobs, Ryan Cross and Travis Wall for helping us figure it out, to Simon who sat with us for most of the weekend, and to David and Amitabh from SSI who helped us to take both refugee and service provider perspectives into account.
Ironically, our journey during the weekend mirrored what we hope the app will do. With the help of the people around us we moved from chaos, disorientation and stress towards having a clear path forward so we could make something we really care about.
The feedback we got was really positive and we were awarded both the overall prize and the people’s choice!
Gaolify Oz team on Sunday with Michael Ascharsobi – former refugee and current Google employee – who told us how much he would have valued the app when he came to Australia.
Our idea is:
An app which enables refugees and case workers to collaboratively design a pathway towards building a life as an Australian.
The user owns the app, and works with the SSI case worker to identify their own personal goals and create the SMART steps to achieving them. With guidance from the case worker, the app can build on the user’s existing strengths and create a sense of accomplishment as tasks are completed.
The flexibility of the format we suggested would enable other service providers, from STARTTS counsellors to banking advisors, to create custom modules for users where complicated processes (from dealing with trauma to setting up a business) are broken down into manageable chunks – with relevant information provided as needed.
We want to build this as both a website and a phone app. We also would like to give users the ability to print the content, helping people without smartphones or regular computer access to use the tool, and to enable case workers to create a record of achievements to celebrate with clients.
We were told by the judges that the app came first because it would be flexible enough to enable a wide range of users with very different needs to build their own version of success in Australia. We were also commended by STARTTS’ Lachlan Murdoch because the app centred on giving control back to the user.
We were, however, told in no uncertain terms that Goalify Oz was a terrible name.
While we figure out exactly what our next steps are, we need your help choosing a new name! Please take our survey and help us decide.
From the team currently known as Goalify Oz
Left to right: Rachel, Victor, Brander, Adam, Imad, Alice and Svitlana
Pictured in spirit: David, Simon and Remi