Global Shaper Ghida is building a platform for refugees

Born in Lebanon, graduated in France and now a leading ICT-lady in the Netherlands. Ghida Ibrahim (28) is a Global Shaper from the Amsterdam hub and currently working on a website to connect refugees with local mentors. We held a short interview to get to know Ghida and her project.


Who are you?

Originally I’m from Lebanon, but I’ve been living most of my twenties in Europe. The last two years I've been living in Amsterdam. I started my studies in ICT engineering in Lebanon and moved to Paris to do a Masters at Telecom ParisTech. I ended up doing a PhD in computer science as well. After those years of studying, I moved to Amsterdam where I work for Liberty Global.


Since settling in Amsterdam, I exploited the work-life balance that the Dutch work culture offers to do a lot of "side" projects, that are now very dear to my heart. One of the projects is Rafiqi, meaning ‘My Companion’ in Arabic. Rafiqi is an e-mentoring platform that uses the power of the crowd to facilitate refugees integration. I also joined the board of Arab Women in Computing (ArabWIC), a NGO focusing on women empowerment through technology and entrepreneurship in MENA and, last but not least, the Global Shapers network.



What should we know from you that we can't find on the internet?

I have an allergy to fish. I used to hate cycling before living in Amsterdam. I day-dream a lot to the point of missing a train or bus stop or smiling alone when walking in the street.



You're working on a crowd-based e-mentoring platform for refugees. How did you get that idea?

Rafiqi idea was fueled by my contact with refugees in Europe on the one hand, and with European friends and colleagues on the other. I noticed that many of the newly arriving refugees, in particular the young ones, are highly skilled and very eager to absorb new knowledge. However, they really do not know where to start. The complexity and duration of the asylum-seeking procedure also add up to the confusion of their situation. On the other hand, I noticed that, despite their best intentions, many of the locals lack a proper understanding of refugees' context and are very worried about the refugee crisis impact on their countries.


Being exposed to both worlds, I decided to use the ICT and the internet to bridge the gap between refugees and their new communities, and to give each local a flexible tool to contribute to solving some aspects of the refugee crisis, namely through mentoring a refugee. Through subscribing to Rafiqi, any local can dedicate a flexible amount of their time to mentor a refugee online to help him/her develop key skills for his/her future employ-ability. Beyond intelligently matching refugees and mentors, we aim at providing a user-friendly web interface for enabling mentor-mentee interaction as well as pro-actively pushing relevant e-learning resources and job opportunities to mentored refugees.



Where would you like the project to be one year from now?

Together with team members based in Istanbul, we are currently finalizing the pilot version of Rafiqi website, which is expected to be ready to be tested by our early users in the course of next month. 


One year from now, I would like to see Rafiqi website up and running, providing mentoring opportunities to hundreds of young refugees by local volunteers all over Europe. I would also love to see these opportunities translating into jobs for refugees, mainly through working on building meaningful partnerships with corporates and incubators.

Finally, one goal that may be too ambitious is to build a kind of "Rafiqi" culture where more refugees feel confident about asking for mentorship and more locals feel willing to provide mentorship to them without fear nor pre-judgement. 



How can the Global Shapers help with this project? 

The Amsterdam Hub of Global Shapers is already helping me with this project. In fact, the Amsterdam hub adopted Rafiqi as a hub project and many of the Amsterdam Shapers would like to get involved in it which, I believe, would be a great facilitator for launching Rafiqi in the Netherlands.

Other Shapers hubs can definitely contribute to the project success, particularly when we scale Rafiqi to refugees and locals in other European countries (Germany and Sweden in particular) and, in a later stage, to the MENA region (Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey) where most of the refugees now live. As such, the coordination with Shapers hubs in Europe and in MENA would be a great enabler for scaling this project and maximizing its impact.



You were born in Beirut, but live in Amsterdam. What could Amsterdam learn from Beirut?

Beirut and Amsterdam are two beautiful cities, both dear to my heart. Beirut can be quite chaotic compared to Amsterdam where life is super-organized. However, there is a unique charm in some of Beirut chaos that I think is worth transferring to any other city in the world. Beirut has also been through violent wars and many political and social crisis in its recent history. Despite all the scars that these events produced on the city and its people, Beirut has continued to shine and to reflect an unbeatable love for life that you can sense when you visit the city. Any city can definitely learn from Beirut how to resist and how to shine.



You're a tech-girl in a men's world. What could IT-guys learn from you?

Yes I am :) Most of IT-guys confuse being geek with being able to speak a very niche language, proper to highly-technical IT people, that nobody else can easily understand. For me, being an ICT expert means being able to explain your most complex ideas to anyone, including your little cousin or your grandma, because, at the end of the day, these are also users of the technology that you are developing.