Berkeley Haas Student App Helps Empower Syrian Asylum-Seekers

Berkeley student app syrian

Students at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley have found a unique and important way to potentially help the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis through a new student-built crowd-source platform.

Founded by Sarrah Nomanbhoy, MBA ’18, who’d previously launched a seed accelerator for new Sri Lankan startups, MarHub came to life with the help of a $5,000 Dean’s Seed Fund grant, a $5,000 Hansoo Lee Fellowship, and a $12,500 Jack Larson Scholarship. Nomanbhoy’s idea emerged from last year’s Hult Prize Challenge on Refugees.

Along with significant contributions from co-founders Jerry Philip, EWMBA ’19; Peter Wasserman, MBA/MPH 18; and Srinivas Vaidyanathan, EWMBA 18, MarHub addresses a common concern among refugees who struggle to navigate confusing and often conflicting sources of information once they reach a border.

Nomanbhoy explained in a recent interview, “Information from humanitarian agencies [was] too general, and social media was filled with unverified rumors. About 70 percent of asylum seekers receive negative decisions after this first set of interviews, and many are now in limbo pending the outcome of the appeal process.”

“The hard part psychologically is not knowing how long the wait is going to be. Time moves very slowly when you’re waiting in a queue, but imagine not knowing whether you’ll be stuck for two months or two years,” Philip added

Based on interviews at the Ritsona and Chios refugee camps in Athens, Greece, the MarHub platform evolved into a Facebook messenger-enabled chatbot that allows refugees to “view, evaluate, and comment on information from humanitarian agencies, volunteers on the ground, and other asylum seekers.” As MarHub accumulates users, “the data collected will enable more accurate, timely responses.”

But Chatbots are merely the beginning of Nomanbhoy’s plans for MarHub. Her long-term goal is to use data to “improve migration management” full stop. The product is expected to begin its initial pilot service with Greece’s RefuComm this fall, followed by more rounds of seed funding.

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