(Photo by Dankia Jurasic)
By the end of 2015, 1.3 million refugees had applied for asylum in European countries, and 2016 brought an additional 350,000, the majority being Syrians fleeing a now-six-year-old civil war.
The influx of refugees has placed overwhelming demands on local aid workers in Europe. People across the world are longing to find a way to help provide real relief.
Philadelphia digital strategist and social entrepreneur Amanda Levinson and her business partner Tasha Freidus think they have a solution: A digital platform that allows refugee aid workers in refugee camps and communities to make a list of their immediate needs — supplies, volunteers, money — and have them filled by individual donors.
It’s called NeedsList. By fostering communication with aid workers at tiny NGOs, the product is potentially able to expedite one of the most effective means of giving during relief situations.
“A lot of [workers] are using Facebook pages — really informal workaround technologies they’re using to try to get things like clothing, supplies for kids, life-saving supplies,” said Levinson. “But the methods they currently use create a lot of duplication, miscommunication, inefficiency and waste.”
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Levinson said approximately three bags of supplies are thrown away for every five that are donated.
“That’s one of the problems we’re trying to solve,” she said. “I’m sure it’s a problem that a lot of charities here deal with.”
Needslist is designed to be an all-in-one app aid workers can use to eliminate those inefficiencies, and responders from anywhere in the world can use the platform to meet needs and purchase supplies directly. Once a need is met — say, art supplies for refugee children experiencing trauma or funds to place a family into temporary housing — the list is updated and the item is removed.
Right now, Levinson is piloting the technology with 100 workers in Greece and France. But she’s already seeing the bigger picture.
“It’s a holistic needs-management platform that can be scaled to use in any kind of community-needs context,” she said. “In an ideal world, this could scale to many other types of needs.”
First things first. NeedsList is still being tweaked. Levinson has been in Europe testing the prototype and gathering feedback from aid workers. If it doesn’t work for the workers, she said, it’s not going to work at all — that’s why she’s taking her time to get it right.
As for funding, Levinson said the platform is completely bootstrapped. She’s currently looking for potential investors.