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Removing Barriers to Education for Refugee Children through Enterprise Software

RISE has developed a software solution that allows refugee aid agencies to identify and fill educational gaps through e-coordination.

Photo of Sergio Medina
20 47

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What problem does your innovation solve?

Globally, there are now 65.6 million forcibly displaced refugees and migrants and 33 million of them are school-aged children. Only 25% of refugee girls attend primary school, and as a whole, only 50% of all refugee children attend primary school. Educational participation drops considerably beyond the primary level. The problem: in refugee camps and settlements, there is no centralized or organized method to identify and remove barriers to education. Our software can solve this challenge.

Explain your innovation.

Our enterprise software brings a digital workflow into the hands of humanitarian aid responders. What makes ciel innovative is that it is the first cloud-based enterprise software platform designed specifically to accelerate humanitarian aid for refugees, and it is the first enterprise solution that is mobile-first, offline-capable, device-agnostics, and fully-optimized to function in infrastructure-poor settings. Here's how it works: an aid agency is outfitted with a ciel-build specific to their needs, in this example, our education module for an agency working in a refugee camp with 100,000 school-aged children. The agency workers access ciel by downloading it onto their phones, and the managers access the Action-Center through ciel’s web dashboard. When an aid worker meets with a child, they assess that child's educational needs and identify any barriers preventing regular school attendance. The worker logs the information electronically, pushes it to the cloud, and creates an "open ticket" to remove the barriers. Once the barrier is removed, the child can attend school, and the worker then continues to support the child to sustain their attendance. Ciel’s legal module is operational in Lesvos, Greece and it was deployed in Berlin, Germany in our first pilot studies. Our early market validation is promising, and our data architecture is designed to scale. Ciel can support the education module, which we need to build into our current scalable data ecosystem.

Who benefits?

The core set of beneficiaries are refugee children, aid workers, and aid agencies. Our goal is to address girl's education as a priority because their school participation is the lowest of any cohort, and they experience the most barriers as a group. Fully implemented, all refugee children will benefit from our education coordination software. Aid workers benefit from increased operational efficiency, and aid agencies benefit from having unprecedented access to data. Through ciel's web dashboard, an agency can produce analytics that illustrate the dynamics of their operation, as well as identify the resources needed to mount an exacting humanitarian intervention, in this case, education for children in emergencies. RISE believes that for refugee children to reach full educational access, agencies must simultaneously meet basic emergency needs such as food, shelter, and protection to promote attendance. As such, we treat education as one of the pillars of emergency aid.

How is your innovation unique?

RISE does not deliver aid directly to refugees. Instead, our contribution comes from building context-specific tech tools for the agencies providing direct aid to refugees; helping them be more efficient and effective. As one of the few refugee+tech organizations, RISE is bridging social work, enterprise technology, human-centered design, and business. Because we speak these various sector languages, we are uniquely positioned to draw on the best they have to offer and drive radical collaboration. We are not aware of any other entities addressing this problem in the same way. However, our sector research has yielded many potential collaborators and partners who have aligned goals. Since we are addressing interagency coordination, partnership is at the core of our strategy. RISE is improving upon structures in-place in the field, tapping into existing networks in which we are embedded, and in doing so, we are driving innovation through systems intra and entrepreneurship.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

The most current questions we have are: How do we drive product adoption? Are agency headquarter needs and field operation needs in alignment? What can we do to prepare for high staff turnover in the field? Does the technology exist to support all that we want to achieve? Questions like these will continue to apply to each deployment of ciel. More questions that keep us up at night are: (a) can we build ciel at a rate that is at pace with the scale of the refugee crisis; (b) should we explore a for-profit hybrid business model and how would it impact our software pricing plan; and (c) as a small yet mighty social enterprise, how do we compete for talent with design, business, and tech giants?

Tell us more about you.

RISE is a social enterprise helping refugee and immigrant children live safe and healthy lives. We partner with INGOs, universities, and governments. Founder and CEO, Sergio Medina has the organizational and product vision. COO, Michael Lauran, makes the impossible possible and CSO, Sitar Mody, builds strategies on how to methodically move us to where we need to be. Sergio is of Mexican descent, and RISE's second pilot was in Lesvos, Greece serving refugees migrating through Turkey.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement
  • Extreme drought
  • Other (please specify in next question)

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

The world is experiencing a refugee crisis of epic proportions. There hasn't been a forced displacement of this magnitude since WWII. RISE aims to deploy ciel using the cloud to transcend location and borders. RISE's first pilot was in a refugee camp, and the second pilot was in an urban setting. This was designed to demonstrate our flexible operability in all settings. In this case, we define ‘emergency setting’ as: anywhere in the world where there are refugee children.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Our objective is to deploy ciel globally; beginning with targeted pilots. Our third pilot is to deploy to East Africa to test our child protection and education module. RISE received approval from UNHCR to station in Nairobi, Kenya and deploy to Rwanda and Uganda to test the transnational child protection modules we're developing. Once this third pilot is completed, we will move into a scaled development phase to build the full set of features that encompass the most potential usecases.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

Sergio has worked in Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Greece, and Germany, and all across the U.S. RISE has partnerships with the UN, HIAS, GWU, Migration Hub Network, Impact Hub, and Berlin-based design agency The Kids. RISE has lasting relationships with UNHCR, UNICEF, IRC, ICMC, USCCB, and LIRS. RISE has strong relationships with Stanford, Google, Salesforce, and LinkedIn. Altogether, RISE has a substantial global network of multi-disciplinary individuals and institutions.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Team RISE has decades of expertise, encompassing nonprofit, business, and social enterprise. Sitar is a leader in strategy development, and she designed RISE’s deployment to Berlin. Michael has considerable experience in South Asia using education as an engagement tool with displaced children. And Sergio has an 18-year global career in international child protection. Sitar, Michael, and Sergio have been applying their collective expertise to further RISE’s mission together since 2014.

Innovation Maturity

  • Roll-out/Ready to Scale: I have completed a pilot and am ready or in the process of expanding.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

RISE is a California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation with federal 501(c)(3) status. We are headquartered in San Francisco.


Website: Facebook Page: Twitter Feed: Crowdrise Page:

How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

Our focus group told us the concept was too complex. The OpenIDEO community guided us to look at how the education module fits in with the big vision for Ciel. And RISE leadership reflected and worked through an evolution of the product to stage for maximum impact. The end-result of this feedback is a very clear and resounding mandate to simplify how the education module will function, in a way independent from the entire vision and ultimate product roadmap of Ciel.

Who will implement this Idea?

RISE will be the implementing agency of this Idea. At present, RISE is has 2.5 full time employees, 4 Board of Directors, and a team of 5 Advisors. We are currently in the process of recruiting a Technical Co-Founder and were we to be funded to implement this idea, we would leverage our current team and add staff as needed. All members of Team RISE are based in San Francisco. Our plan is to remain headquartered in San Francisco and deploy to locations globally for testing and implementation.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

Our end-users face vicarious trauma, lack of resources, and time-limited deployments. End-users are on the frontlines of the refugee crisis and deal with significant burnout, and despite their most valiant efforts, battle a feeling that the crisis is beyond their individual impact. UNHCR and other entities are faced with funding shortages, a gap in recruiting long-term staff to sustain operations, as well as an ever-increasing global crisis. UNHCR and other stakeholders must respond to new waves of forced migration, winterization, and loss of life. In the face of such a large global challenge, RISE is committed to easing the difficulty that end-users and stakeholder agencies experience by building products that make their job easier, more efficient, and more effective.

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

RISE has received Special Accreditation from the UN General Assembly. Additionally, RISE has established, and is developing, partnerships with international NGOs, international governmental organizations, foundations, universities, and tech companies. We are intent on converting these opportunities into funded arrangements where we partner to scale our innovation. RISE is committed to multi-sector collaboration, with funding, talent, and in-kind resources, to drive investments to positively impact the refugee response effort.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

Impact: By 2022, RISE aims to increase the educational participation of refugee children from 50% to 75% for both girls and boys; once achieved, 6,000,000 more refugee child will attend school on a regular basis. Question: Given the complexity of emergencies, how do we build a product that is effective in the maximum number of settings and how do we balance product adoption in the long-term, with the emergent needs and the competing demands inherent in an emergency setting in the short-term?

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

Predetermined analytics are automatically calculated and reported based on input from the end-users in the field. Core metrics such as # of Children Served, Rate of Attendance, Rate of Absence, Educational Achievement, and Primary Language Acquisition will be collected. Two metrics critical to measuring the outcomes of this project are: Number of Children Attending School because of Barriers Removed; and second, Rate of Educational Participation for Refugee Children.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Were we to be funded for this project, RISE could begin building the full-set of features immediately, and could build a functional prototype within 3 months, at which point the product could be launched at the 3 month mark. For expansion through years 1-3, the key steps for RISE would be to partner with aid organizations that are providing educational services in refugee contexts, partners such as IRC, Mercy Corps, and Save the Children.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Under $50,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • No paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are a registered entity, but not in the country in which we plan to implement our Idea.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • More than 2 years

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Model Support


Join the conversation:

Photo of geoffrey mosigisi

Hi, Sergio Medina and your team,
What kind of programs you have put in place for refugee children considering that you will meet different categories of children, age, tribes and special needs.I want you to know that I have read your idea, and even I visited your website I did not see any program. Thanks .

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