Like most well intentioned projects, the kinks initially overshadow the progress. Canada's Syrian refugee resettlement program has been no exception.
By the new year, news cycles dominated by stories of elated Syrians arriving at Canadian airports were swiftly replaced by stories of resettlement delays and frustrations. As the narrative changed, so did the conversation taking place at our Civic Tech Toronto meetup.
During the four weeks in January that Architech hosted the hacktivist group at our downtown Toronto office, our team looked to the news and spoke to the community to help identify an impactful entry point.
The stories that flooded our social media feeds quickly clarified a major problem: Private sponsorship. The Canadians who have taken responsibility for a refugee family certainly do not lack for commitment or resources, yet a bureaucratic backlog and fractured channels of communication are preventing them from moving forward. As a founding member of CTTO, I helped facilitate a session that included three other Architech staff members eager to change that story.
“We found gross inefficiencies during our research,” says Russell Hoy, one of the Architech developers who joined the project. “The government has a huge number of government-assisted refugees that don’t have help from private sponsors, while at the same time they have a bunch of private sponsors waiting to help. In the meantime, you have Syrians stuck in hotels.”
Along with Russell and two other Architech staffers who joined the CTTO project team, we've been pushing toward a tangible solution. Using a human-centred design approach, Russell, Fortunato Guanlao, Harnek Sidhu and I began compiling a Sponsor Journey Map to identify underlying problems in the system. Once that's done, we’ll seek solutions we can prototype and deliver to a receptive audience of fellow hacktivists, municipal politicians and resettlement agencies with the power to make things move.
Each of us brings personal motivation to the task. Russell, whose wife’s family were refugees from Vietnam, hopes our efforts can be applied towards improving the country’s refugee resettlement experience across the spectrum, while I'm proud to see my passion project start to take root in the wider community. Harnek and Fortunato, also developers at Architech, were drawn to learn more about design strategy to help in every facet of their professional skill set, but it's also had some surprising impact on the personal front.
“This isn’t something I would have been exposed to otherwise,” Fortunato says. “I find myself reading articles on Syria and doing something I wouldn’t have done before and now I have a genuine interest.”
Our research has already led to some really interesting discoveries. One of the key takeaways has been that every sponsor and refugee’s journey is completely different and can't be generalized into a common stereotype.
Another thing that has really struck us is similar to that saying "it takes a village to raise a child," but instead of a child, we're welcoming a refugee family. It really takes an entire support network surrounding key private sponsoring individuals to integrate newcomers into a community. The broader the network of support, the greater the likelihood for integration success.
Although CTTO has wrapped up its month-long tenure at the Architech HQ, our three newly minted staff hacktivists plan to see the project through long-term as the group moves to other locations.
In the meantime, stay glued to the Architech blog for ongoing updates and click here to learn more about the various projects Civic Tech Toronto also has on the burner.