Sweden is once again leading the way in the social innovation field with a digital tool that not only helps migrants to adjust to their new culture but also allows local authorities to cut the costs they incur in dealing with newcomers.
One of the main challenges refugees face as they try to integrate in a new country is how to find a suitable job. Sweden, which accepts the highest number of refugees of any European country per head of the population, has fully recognised this issue and is making inclusion in the labour market the driver of refugee integration. One of the tools at its disposal to achieve this is an innovative and ground-breaking digital solution called Mobilearn.
Mobilearn is the brainchild of Claes Persson, a successful entrepreneur, who a few years ago found himself working in New York City and was shocked to discover that a country almost entirely composed of immigrants could not come up with a single webpage to make life easier for newcomers.
When he got back to Sweden, Mr Persson launched Mobilearn with Ernest Radal, himself the son of immigrants who arrived in Sweden in the 1970s and struggled for years with language barriers and administrative hurdles. The idea of Mobilearn is to provide in a single user-friendly application all the tools new arrivals need to achieve rapid, successful and painless integration.
Integration, employment, housing, language and education – all in one app
As Mr Radal explained at the seminar, Mobilearn addresses the four areas the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identifies as crucial for successful assimilation: social integration, employment, housing, language and education.
To help migrants get acquainted with their new society, learn the rules and their basic rights, Mobilearn provides comprehensive government information available round the clock on their mobile phone and in their native language. Searches can be carried out in any language and results are presented in the user’s mother tongue with translation.
Mobilearn also assists new migrants to build their CVs and provides help with mapping both their soft and hard skills. It supplies information on what skills and competences are needed on the Swedish labour market, and where, and sends users regular job offers.
With regard to housing, Mobilearn complements the government’s offer by exploiting the potential of the private housing market and, when possible, suggests accommodation in areas where there is work that matches the individual’s competences. Mobilearn also tackles the lack of language skills that affects the migrant’s ability to work by offering digital Swedish language courses.
What is particularly interesting about this app, beyond all the information and help it provides migrants, is the fact that every circumstance has been envisaged. If a refugee cannot read, he can have the information read to him thanks to the audio option. If he cannot speak Swedish and needs to go to the doctor for example, Mobilearn can also help him. The user can not only find a doctor’s address but also search for his symptoms in his native language and get the translation on a large screen to show the physician.
In this digital age, where people often come across the problem of disinformation, another added value of Mobilearn is that the information it provides is 100% accurate and certified as such. For example if a migrant googles “citizenship’ he or she will get millions of results. With this app, on the other hand, he will only get the information he really needs.
According to Mr Radal, it has been “a huge challenge” to collect the information, organise it in a user-friendly way, and translate it into different languages – “but it has been worth it”.
The app has now been bought by 150 local municipalities and regions in Sweden and the rest are expected to follow soon, especially since a recent study by Stockholm University and Chalmers University in Gothenburg, comparing those municipalities that use Mobilearn with those who don’t, established that those who do save on average €421 per immigrant per year. As Mr Radal explained, this means that “if every immigrant who came to Sweden during 2015 were given a Mobilearn licence the annual saving would be €90 million”.
Messrs Radal and Persson are currently in talks with the German Federal Employment Agency and Immigration services to test a pilot project to map the competences of new arrivals in Brandenburg and are also planning a European pilot project untitled “Upscaling digital integration initiative platforms” with both the European Commission and the European Parliament’s S&D group.
The pilot is planned to start in 2017 and will involve several EU countries as a part of a transnational collaboration. “This reflects well the scaling-up of Mobilearn as a pan-European solution and as a European response to one of our biggest challenges in modern times,” Mr Radal said.