Christopher Mikkelsen

Refugees United (REFUNITE)

REFUNITE is the world’s largest missing persons network for displaced people and refugees
Focus: Technology; Refugees
Geographic Area of Impact: Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Pakistan, Somaliland, Somalia, Liberia, South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, Niger, Ghana, Nigeria, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan,
Model: Leveraged Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 5,000,000+ registered users
(21,000+ family members reunited)
Annual Budget: USD $1,100,000 (2015)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 0%
The Social Problem
Today, there are over 60 million forcibly displaced people worldwide; a number unmatched since World War II. A large percentage of those fleeing have lost contact with family members or friends in their escape from disaster, persecution, or conflict. Historically, few refugee families have found each other again once separated, due to the lack of access to centralized information, coupled with bureaucracy and slow, paper-based processes that are unable to scale. Existing efforts by international organisations and NGOs are able to reunite on average 750 families a year, at a high cost and low success rate.
Innovation and Activities
REFUNITE has disrupted traditional paper-based reunification methods by creating a platform accessible via any basic phone that is free of charge through which displaced people can take control of the search for missing family members themselves. Today, REFUNITE is able to register more than 100,000 refugees per year and has reconnected more than 21,000 family members to date.
How the model works:
–– REFUNITE conducts studies on the ground with leading telecoms companies such as Safaricom, Zain Group, and Airtel to identify and target areas with large populations of displaced people.
–– REFUNITE partners with international organisations such as UNHCR and the national Ministry of Communications to ensure the necessary permissions are in place for REFUNITE to operate in the refugee camps, as well as with the leading telecoms companies in the region to gain direct access to mobile phone numbers.
–– Refugees are informed about the services via SMS. Millions of text messages are sent out in local languages to help refugees and displaced persons understand the service and how to access the platform. Users can then access the platform for free via text or with Facebook Free Basics to create a profile, search for missing family members, exchange messages.
–– Verification by algorithm keywords (to protect identity of refugees) such as parent’s names or nicknames are used to confirm a match. Once a user has verified the identify of a missing family member, they take the conversation offline.
Phone surveys are carried out by REFUNITE staff to ensure the match is indeed genuine.
By 2019, REFUNITE will expand services into new countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan and deploy interactive voice response to allow illiterate users to access the platform.
The Entrepreneurs
David and Christopher Mikkelsen have successfully bridged the gap between the non-profit and corporate worlds. In July 2016 the Mikkelsen brothers were selected as part of the ‘25 most daring individuals’ by the editors of Condé Nast, WIRED Magazine, Vanity Fair and more. REFUNITE’s pioneering and disruptive approach to humanitarian innovation has been featured in international media, such as TIME, The BBC, The Guardian, Forbes, National Geographic and more.