RefugeesWork: programming skills for a new generation of freelancers to change the ecosystem and how we work together

We are a community of freelance developers and other digital professionals who work together online often purely over the internet. We started our project RefugeesWork to help newcomers to connect with locals who are looking for freelancers to outsource some work to them.

It all started in August 2015 when lots of newcomers, mainly from Syria, arrived to Germany.

It now turns out that it’s not very easy for them to find any kind of employment at all. German companies seem to not need the skills they bring to the table and even if they do have what they are looking for, they often reject people who do not speak German well.

We decided to use our digital skills, first of all programming, to help them. We developed a marketplace app where on one side newcomers can register and describe their skills and on the other side local organizations can post their requests for freelancers. We believe work is the best pathway to connect refugees and locals and to date, we have over 300 registrations on the site and big community in Berlin and online. Those Syrians come from all walks of life and some have excellent background, or were running their own business.

But we also realized that freelance requests are mostly for freelancers with web and mobile development background. These are the jobs freelancers can do online, they don’t need to speak the local language and because all the organizations are trying to automate their processes, there is actually a big need for these professions. We checked our database and available statistics and figured out that most of newcomers are young, they just finished their high school or had to leave in the middle of their studies so they actually lack necessary skills to integrate into the highly specialized German job market. Freelancing would give refugees freedom from discrimination they would face otherwise and freelancers are usually paid way better. The tricky part is in making sure there is a regular flow of work. That is our experience.

Therefore we decided to extend our Berlin based coding school for kids and use our experiences to create online e-learning platform to teach newcomers programming: from how to install browser to how to build your mobile app. All the learners can learn digital skills/programming no matter where they are, they get 24/7 support on the chat from mentors and other learners and later and they can apply for projects companies outsource through RefugeesWork. All the learners become part of digital collective Coding Amigos, that we started with international crew of developers with activist streak already 3 years ago. We meet in Berlin 2x a week and co-work together on client projects or our own apps that we in long term want to connect in a circular economy. For us - even though circular economy is usually connected to recycling - that means that supply chains form supply circles and money is not loaned by governments and other usual suspects and end up in always the same pockets who save it and don’t even know what to do with all the money.

Currently we are also following the work of Sensorica in Canada and Enspiral in New Zealand. Our wish is to create a micro-holding co-ownership model. One part of the motivation is to shield these professionals from all kinds of discrimination that they might otherwise experience.

It shields them, for example from the usual politicking among corporate employees who might tend to put such newcomers into a fairly low place. And another part of the motivation is exploring processes and legal ways for cooperation and decision making between many micro-holdings.

We try to list all our initiatives inside of Github organization SquatUp.

We try to keep all our work open and transparent for which we for now use, and which allow us versioned storing our documents, including code, working on issues on a kanban board and use open communication on a public chat.

All our projects are made with zero budget so with pure love and dedication for our mission: open source & transparency, inclusiveness, digital literacy and open organization. It is not easy, but we don’t want to waste our time chasing funding and investors or clients, but instead co-create the world we want to live in. And we believe right people and opportunities will come from that and from the people that share the mindset and want to join us.

It’s hard to make a living with all of this, so we just try to live as cheap as possible and we work for a better future where society is organized differently utilizing radical transparency and open source. Until then we live from savings that we sometimes manage to build when working on paid projects. By empowering refugees with skills we hope they will later become our partners and continue to help us build an alternative work. On top of that, we might manage to get in projects on a more regular basis and outsource paid work to each other.

So if you are a programmer, ”apptivist”, please consider reaching out and connect your apps to our ecosystem via API or help us build an open ecosystem of related apps.

If you know anyone who did not yet start to learn programming, please tell them to join us in so they can get started for free immediately. We offer 24/7 support for free to get learners from zero to be able to create their first mobile app within a couple of weeks up to a few months given learners are disciplined and learn full time.

And last but not least, if you can bring in paid IT projects to support our voluntary efforts, the community of learners and our effort to prototype alternative ways of organizing and working together, we would appreciate it a lot. Everyone who successfully brings in a project and helps us communicating with the customer during the project will be transparently included in the sharing of the revenue.

The production of this article was supported by Op3n Fellowships - an ongoing program for community contributors during May - November 2016.


RefugeesWork -

Online JavaScript school -

Coding Amigos meetup - Wizard Amigos | Meetup

Coding Amigos collective -

SquatUp -

Nina Breznik - @ninabreznik

Alexander Praetorius - @serapath

Fascinating and powerful

This sounds like a brilliant project.

I really like how you saw that there was a matched experience between what you experience as young entrepreneurs and what the refugees experience arriving into the job market.

More power to you. I will certainly follow your project very carefully.

I wonder also if you know about Empower Hack. I think it is a UK based organisation, but it is doing similar work with women and girls (

Let’s spread the word?

Thanks @ninabreznik and co.!  I’m just back online after a few days off the platform, and say we take these days to share your post.

Also ping @Tomma who is close to some people in the ICC camps and has done great work herself - right up your street dear?  Help us share this?

Thanks guys

Alex, this is so nice to hear, please stay in touch and let’s push things forward… Thanks also for the link, will check them out and see how we could connect :smiley:

Noemi, cool, thanks. Sounds very interesting. Reading…