How 6 Creatives Around the World Are Helping Refugees Reclaim Their Identities

Using ad chops to help the war-torn

For advertising folks looking for a way to be part of something bigger than themselves, this inspiring story might just do the trick. Six creatives from different parts of the world joined forces to launch I Am Not a Refugee, a site designed to help refugees find work appropriate to their skills.

It does so in a way that pays tribute to their training—by using storytelling and design to reposition them as writers, engineers, artists, doctors and other roles they held back home.

Once users fill out the form, they are vetted by the team and appear in a Pinterest-style series of image blocks, where you can look at their taglines, read their stories and contact them directly:
 

The site is in both Arabic and English.

The creatives who launched the site—Mike Wittrup, Daniel RørbækVitali Poluzhnikov, Mitsuko Sato, Caio Andrade and Didrik Persson—met at Hyper Island, and then collaborated online to kick off this project. In this AdFreak interview, they discussed I Am Not a Refugee at length.

Describe how the project came about.
Last week we were discussing how we could find interesting people among the newcomers to Europe to collaborate with when it comes to our everyday creative work. Then we realized that we should create a resource for everyone instead and make it into a movement.

Where are you based? Are you focusing on one country, or many?
All of us are working as creatives at different places around the world, trying to make exciting projects that help people. We're based in Copenhagen, Stockholm and São Paulo. But people from all over the world have contacted us and want to help. Since the refugee status is a global label, this initiative does not have any borders.

Are you personally touched by the crisis?
We have dealt with visa complications in our past, and we know how gated our world is in reality and how hard it can be to move. But other than the legal complications, there are cultural ones. To try to build a home in a new country is not an easy task, especially when you're labeled as a refugee.

How does the service work once people fill out the form?
We just released a new version of the site. We want to give these people a voice. The idea is to have a place where they can really be themselves—no labels, no begging. Just people like everyone else, telling their stories and showing the world what they are capable of.

How many refugees have you helped find work already?
The site was released [Tuesday, Sept. 22]. And in the first 24 hours we had 12 applications with professions such as artist, software engineers and dentists. We can't wait to hear the first success stories.

Can you share one person's story?
Meet Muhab:

"I am a software engineer graduate from Syria. After graduation I settled for two years in Istanbul, Turkey. During that time I worked as a webmaster, English teacher and an interpreter. Now I am in Berlin. I came with a job-seeker visa, and I am looking to start up my career as web developer in the front-end developing. I have experience in HTML5, CSS3, Bootstrap and some experience in JQuery. I am searching for an internship or a training so I can gain more skills in that area. Thank you for reading this. Best regards, Muhab." (From the editor: Entry lightly edited.)

Find more stories on the website.

How long will the project last? Do you plan to partner with any brands or organizations to extend it?
As long as it's relevant. The service will be driven by the community around it and by additional collaborations. Maybe people will need computers and other equipment for freelance work?

Are any non-refugees using the service, and if so, do you help them?
We're not going to ask someone, "Are you really a refugee?" We're not the people to judge that. All we can do it try to make sure that the people who need the service get to know about it and then connect those people with companies and people that need them.

What do you ultimately hope to accomplish?
To create new futures. To give people back their identity. Once you label everyone a "refugee," you take away their individuality.

What resources are you using to fund your project?
Our time and some lended free resources. It's quite cheap to make, so there is no money involved and there never will be.

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For reference, about half a million refugees have crossed European borders so far this year, making it the EU's largest refugee crisis ever. Get more context on the routes they're taking as well as how many refugees each European country is likely to take. 

If you'd like to help out, make a donation to the UN Refugee Agency and share the I Am Not a Refugee resource with companies. Most refugees are relying heavily on smartphones to navigate tricky terrain, stay in touch with loved ones, and—little by little—rebuild their lives.