Yuri Milner and Tech For Refugees: Bridging the Digital Divide

David Banks
Authored by David Banks
Posted Thursday, November 30, 2023 - 7:45am

Israeli billionaire Yuri Milner has co-founded and financed several non-profit initiatives over the last decade. These include the Breakthrough Prize, Breakthrough Initiatives, Breakthrough Junior Challenge, and, most recently, Tech For Refugees.

Milner established Tech For Refugees in spring 2022 to support the global refugee crisis. There are currently 100 million displaced people worldwide. Of this number, 27 million are refugees seeking asylum.

Tech For Refugees supports the use of technology in enhancing refugee relief efforts. The initiative funds innovative tech organisations that use their services and networks to help refugees around the world.

The Importance of Technology in Refugee Relief Efforts

Technology is instrumental in providing humanitarian relief to refugees and enhancing their quality of life. A report by the United Nations Refugee Agency lists the following as issues of fundamental importance for displaced people:

  • Reliable internet.
  • Access to smartphones.
  • Affordable data plans.
  • Continuous electricity supply.

The Financial Times reports that refugees spend around a third of their disposable income on connectivity. Forbes says displaced people often prioritise communication over other essentials like clothing and medicine. Those settling in new countries commonly use communication technology to contact family members back home and seek employment opportunities.

Providing Refugees With Access to Technology and the Internet

There are many areas where technology can make a difference in refugees’ lives. Tech For Refugees supports its tech partners by funding programmes that coordinate vital aid deliveries, offer critical services, and provide entertainment.

Some of the programmes Tech For Refugees sponsors specifically seek to provide access to technology and the internet. For example, the partnership between Tech For Refugees and UNICEF USA supports education and remote learning for Ukrainian children.

Amidst the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, portable devices like tablets and laptops have become a vital tool for teachers. Providing schools with technology allows more children to access education remotely. Distance learning is hugely important for Ukrainian students who are unable to attend classes in person due to conflict in the country.

Meanwhile, a donation from Tech For Refugees to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has enabled the organisation to expand its Signpost project.

Signpost is the world’s first scalable information platform. Driven by teams of community liaisons, Signpost provides people in need with life-saving information via a range of digital tools and portals. To date, Signpost programmes have reached 36 million people with key information products.

Milner has emphasised that “sophisticated technological tools” can support millions worldwide who are “trying to rebuild their lives.”

About Yuri Milner

Yuri Milner is a science and technology investor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Forbes estimates his net worth at $6.8 billion.

Milner is the founder of DST Global, a prominent internet technology investment firm. DST Global’s portfolio has included companies like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Spotify, Airbnb, and Alibaba.

The Breakthrough Foundation

Julia and Yuri Milner are Giving Pledge signatories. To realise their Giving Pledge commitment, the couple founded the Breakthrough Foundation in 2012.

The Breakthrough Foundation:

  • Supports researchers in fundamental physics, life sciences, and mathematics through the Breakthrough Prize. The Breakthrough Prize awards prizes of up to $3 million to leaders in these three fields. The Prize also celebrates early-career researchers through its New Horizons in Physics and Mathematics Prizes and Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize.
  • Invests in advanced science programmes like the Breakthrough Initiatives. First announced in 2015, the Breakthrough Initiatives are a suite of programmes focused on answering the mysteries of life in the Universe. One of the Breakthrough Initiatives, Listen, seeks to discover whether intelligent civilisations exist beyond Earth.
  • Helps spread scientific ideas amongst children and the wider public in the form of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. Each year, students from all over the world submit short, inventive videos to the Breakthrough Junior Challenge in the hopes of winning the contest’s major prizes. Their video submissions explain and simplify complex scientific ideas. Members of the public also have their say in the competition during the Popular Vote judging stage.

Eureka Manifesto

Milner is also the author of Eureka Manifesto: The Mission for Our Civilisation. Published in 2021, the short book contains some of his ideas about scientific progress, humanity, and our role in the Universal story.

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