Urban Refuge and Womanhood

BY ELLIE HITT

Sitting in a panic in a cafe in Istanbul, I hastily scanned the courses open for the Spring 2016 semester racing to elect my courses before my scheduled registration. Although one of the courses I selected was open to anyone, the seminar I found myself in last January was ultimately comprised of 22 women. It was with this all-female team with whom I would embark upon the adventure that finally led to our humanitarian aid app, Urban Refuge. At our one year anniversary as a class, I have found myself reflecting on the value of our work not only as a team, but as a group of women working in concert for a grander purpose.

I was used to being surrounded by women: strong, outspoken, gifted, and intelligent women. A graduate of an all-girls institution in Nashville, TN, every day for four years I witnessed the power of women. I watched women excel in the classroom, on the athletic field, on mock trial teams, in Model UN debates, on stage through performance, and in our communities.

I was supported, challenged, loved, and enlightened by those women and their talents, experiences, and stories. I realized the power of women early on.

Thus, when during my junior year of college I enrolled in a class on Forced Migration and Human Trafficking at Boston University, the idea that a group of 22 women could examine a problem like the Syrian Refugee crisis and determine at least one actionable step wasn’t much of a jump. Nor was it a jump when we started debating the merits and challenges of actually creating an app for Syrian refugees.

I believed that this group of women could and would create such an app. Of course we could band together to revise and rewrite plans, to consider all angles of a particular action, and be empathetic and inquisitive at each turn. Of course women could reach out to companies across Boston and ultimately across the world. Of course these same women could meet with leaders within Google, Uniqlo, and Microsoft and even discuss our team’s plans with a candidate for Secretary General of the United Nations.

Yet the truth is that most teams, especially those working in technology, are not comprised solely of women. Although the main goal of Urban Refuge is to use technology to address information asymmetries in the urban refugee experience, we hope to serve as an example to young women that their ambitions are worthy and that they can make a difference in their communities and beyond-- with or without technology.

This is not to say that all-women teams are automatically geared for success. They aren’t and we have had our fair share of ups and downs already. But what matters is that we as a team strive each day to expand our knowledge and network and to improve our idea. What matters is that our friends and family have supported us in this endeavor as have people around the world because they agree with our core mission and values.

All along, we have been dedicated to pursuing cross-sector solutions to promote agency and empowerment for individuals in need. For me, these two words have been a crucial part of me acknowledging and embracing my womanhood. Perhaps this is why I and (I suspect) many other women on the team feel so committed to this project and this crisis. We understand that all humanity is inherently linked and that injustice to one means injustice for all. So here’s to all women, may 2017 bring peace, stability, and empowerment!