RefugeeHero is trying to change the current refugee crisis – one AirBnb room at a time.
History shows that as soon as people lose faith in leaders, and how they handle global crises, citizens take the wheel. This used to mean country-wide demonstrations and a call for revolution, but the internet has fostered a different kind of reaction. You might have heard how, in a response to the Greek debt crisis, a young Englishman set up an Indiegogo page with a €1.6bn goal in an effort to bail-out the indebted country. Individuals can now step up and contribute to changing the world from their laptops.
For RefugeeHero, the aim is help overcome the current refugee crisis, one AirBnB room at a time. Founders Jamal Oulel and Germaine Statia were driving over one of Rotterdam’s famous bridges when they began discussing how expensively and ineffectively European political leaders were handling the refugee situation.
“We drove to our office, contacted Ayoub Aouragh and started working on Refugeehero,” the entrepreneurs said.
Having contacted Aouragh as the third entrepreneur, the men quickly launched the website. The idea of the initiative was simple: use property sharing platform AirBnB to help people offer a spare room, couch or apartment to refugees.
“Becoming a hero is all about giving back to society,” the company’s website reads, urging people to help refugees by getting in touch.
“We built the website in four days and the simplicity of the concept gave us a hunch from the start that it would catch on,” the founders said.
“We offer a marketplace where offer and demand comes together. We do not facilitate the accommodations ourselves, we just do the recruitment of accommodations by deploying smart marketing and a lot of PR.”
It has not been easy maintaining the young business, however. Newly founded businesses are time consuming and entrepreneurs are often working 24 hours a day. With Oulel and Statia still working on their own start-up, Jobtease, and Aouragh in full time work, these men are looking for someone to take over Refugeehero and give it the time and attention it deserves.
“We are still working on perfecting the flow. Currently refugees hear about us from the media, [and] from several foundations. This has to be strategised further in the nearby future to create a standard and logical flow to introduce RefugeeHero to refugees.”
The initiative goes against the trend of many tech start-ups, which are continuously struggling with their image when it comes to ethics. For example, as successful as Uber is as a business model – and despite the company trying out initiatives such as driving free donations to collection points for the refugee camp in Calais – it will always be seen as a disruption for the taxi industry. AirBnB too, despite managing to keep a somewhat friendly image, has its share of critics.
In the Netherlands distruptive business models are having a particularly difficult time being accepted. AirBnB and Uber have been in constant legal battles with the government over their business models. Recently, AirBnB shut down more than 170 listings in Amsterdam, whose hosts were dodging rules and arranging long-term lets in their AirBnBs.
However, the Refugeehero initiative might increase acceptance for the sharing economy start-up. It comes amid international tensions between refugees and leaders and it shows that kind people who are willing to take in refugees and help them familiarise themselves in a strange and new environment, do exist.
So far, the start-up has been met with a lot of enthusiasm. People have been in touch saying they are keen to donate money, clothing and their time. Aouragh, Oulel and Statia said these options will be more widely available in due time:
“We are going to make a pivot very soon that will turn RefugeeHero in a full-blown marketplace for everything a refugee could need, not only accommodation.”
Overall, the founders hope that their new start-up can provide more accomodations for refugees and they hope the initiative will inspire more young people to do good work in the world.
“Never forget to start with a Minimal Viable Product,” they said.
“See how people react on it and if it truly changes the world; if it does, iterate on it until you have a full-blown product or service.”