a16z Podcast: Mobility and the Global Refugee Crisis

“We throw around words like ‘crisis’ very easily, but this is a global crisis, and it is of historic proportions,” says current U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken about the refugee crisis (for which he and his department mobilized a response that significantly accelerated government efforts to assist refugees, as well as engage the tech sector). “People don’t realize that before 2011, the number of Syrian refugees was zero,” shares Lina Sergie Attar of the non-profit Karam Foundation, which aims to build a better future for Syria through education, smart aid, and sustainable development programs for internally displaced communities inside Syria as well as refugee populations in neighboring countries.

Yet in this episode of the a16z Podcast (with Sonal Chokshi and a16z’s Matt Spence, who was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense at the Middle East) both agree that it’s a crisis that requires a global response, including from the tech industry. Especially when technologies like the smartphone, which “is the most important object” that refugees have — for migration, communication, documentation, connection, commerce, more — can and do play a role.

But we need to go beyond the “mobile migration” narrative here: Maybe we shouldn’t focus on promoting superhero ‘migration’ success stories or citing statistics, and instead find out more about the broader context and details of refugees’ day to day lives. Maybe it’s not about being ‘solutionistic’ … but is about finding solutions. Maybe it’s about the intersection of foreign policy and technology; it most certainly is about our collective humanity.

image: Mustafa Bader / Wikimedia