It’s difficult to imagine the hardship that one must endure as a refugee. Being displaced from your country, home, and potentially family is not an easy thing for anyone to endure. While there are nine resettlement agencies for refugees in the US, there’s room for improvement when it comes to helping refugees build the lives they desire in the long-term. There’s an opportunity to help empower refugees to establish financial independence and aid them in understanding the importance of building credit.
If you’ve lived in America your whole life, you may feel like you have a pretty good grasp on our confusing credit-building system. But to a newcomer, our concept of credit—including what it means to build it—may be significantly different than what they’re familiar with. Credit history in the US has far-reaching implications. It determines things like the loans you could qualify for—including housing, car, or small business loans—and the interest rate you’ll pay. But without the proper tools and guidance, refugees may end up making decisions that negatively impact their credit score from the start, inadvertently trapping them in a cycle of debt.
The Refugee Hack Summit gave Moment an opportunity to flex our strategy, research, and design muscles in the name of this important issue. (See the bottom of this post to read more about how Moment took first prize in the Refugee Hack Summit.)
Refugee credit education
Credit and the notion of a credit history are ingrained into everyday American life (just count all the television commercials that mention credit scores). However, credit history and credit score can be a foreign and opaque concept for many refugees, so how could we help to change that? For the Refugee Hack Summit, we identified three essential design principles for an educational credit tool geared toward refugees:
1. Be accessible anywhere at anytime
2. Leverage knowledge from the community
3. Support long-term understanding and learning
Our final, prize-winning concept called Aspire—designed in a short, 12-hour sprint—contains three core components: Learn, Practice, and Inspire. The wireframes we created could eventually be built into an app to help educate refugees and non-refugees alike on how to build credit.
To provide useful information to refugees at all literacy levels, Aspire provides videos and audio in a user’s native language. This is done modularly to avoid overloading them with information, much like the way Duolingo uses step-by-step education and quizzes to teach new languages.
To guide refugees into becoming good decision makers, we offer a simple, decision-based game in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” format. This provides users with a safe space to test their knowledge and experience pitfalls without the real-world consequences.
To inspire refugees about what their future could hold, Aspire showcases podcast-like audio and video clips from refugees within their community who have already experienced the American credit system first-hand. New refugees learn how credit works through stories from real people they can relate to. Other refugees can pass along information they wish they knew sooner about credit, success stories around building credit history, and cautionary tales.
Our solution is a flexible platform designed to grow and evolve over time. Together, the Learn, Practice, and Inspire sections create an understanding around what credit is and how it’s affected by paying bills on time, opening up new accounts, and holding onto accounts for extended periods of time.
Our process included technical assessments along the way to ensure that the Refugee Hack Summit organizers will be able to extend our concept in the future. The highest priority now is continuing the conversation with refugees, volunteers, and resettlement agencies. Should our concept be built, we expect it to start to alleviate the intense workloads of NGOs like the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (who participated in the Refugee Hack Sumit), resettlement agencies, and volunteers. More importantly, it’ll empower refugees in their journey toward financial freedom.
This post is a collaboration between Sam Szerlip and Hanley Weng.
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Refugee Hack Summit
Thanks in part to our commitment to the Citizen Designer Pledge, we chose to get involved in the Refugee Hack Summit, a 12-hour, code-free hackathon where teams jam on strategy proposals and prototypes to address crises facing refugees. Moment participated alongside 12 teams—and won!—the first edition of the event on October 1, 2017, which involved members of HIAS, other refugee organizations, and even several refugees.
Our process focused around human-centered design lead to us winning first place, as judged by distinguished reviewers from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Heavenly, Zenith, and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). Our first place win means that our insights and concept will go onto the Refugee Hack Summit’s next phase in improving the refugee crisis.