Industry Innovators: Finding Home, The App Putting You In The Shoes Of A Refugee

Industry Innovators: Finding Home, the app putting you in the shoes of a refugeeSmartphones – the must-have accessory that most people across the world are unable to live without: a way to keep up to date with friends, family and world news. Smartphones have also become an integral lifeline for refugees across the world and a way to keep in touch with their loved ones.

Introducing Finding Home, the powerful app showing you just how important smartphones are by taking over your phone and transforming it into the phone of 16-year-old Rohingya teenager, Kathijah.

Launched in April by the U.N. Refugee Agency, Finding Home opens users eyes to the world of Kathijah as she flees Myanmar for a new life in Malaysia.

We spoke with Executive Creative Director of Grey Malaysia, Graham Drew who developed the app, to find out a little more…

Tell us about Finding Home

Finding Home transforms your phone into that of a refugee, turning it into a real-time storytelling device. It puts people in the shoes of a refugee by turning the crisis into a compelling personal drama that people experience first hand. You are holding the phone of 16-year-old Khatijah, a Rohingyan refugee, you have to answer calls, reply to messages, send pictures – her survival is in your hands.

Can you tell us a little about some of the features and storyline in the app?

The story was based on a number of interviews with Rohingya refugees and UNHCR volunteers who live and breathe the reality of the situation first hand.

Finding Home is the story of 16-year-old Khatijah who is forced to flee her native village Myanmar with her brother. As they are crossing the border, they get separated during an Army raid and she has to find shelter and a new life in Malaysia, whilst trying to find her brother. Finding Home simulates a new OS within your phone – so all of the standard features; messages, picture gallery, videos, phone calls, music library, became our story canvas. Learning how to create interactive dialogue trees that shift dependant on responses has been one of the hardest, but most rewarding things the team have ever done.

What was your inspiration?

Like all the best ideas, it came unexpectedly. Over Christmas I was having lunch with some friends, one of whom was volunteering at the UNHCR. She told me about the Rohingya situation, which honestly I knew nothing about. I was incredibly moved by it and wanted to do something to help. I thought that my agency could perhaps do some creative fundraising appeal, help them with website or something. After meeting with Yante and Alia, one thing really stuck in my mind – they said that one of the biggest problems is people don’t see refugees as people. That their story is so nuanced and complex, as all human ones are, that print ads, leaflets, even films can’t really get that across. That’s a great brief. The refugee story, sadly, is nothing new. Constant news means people have heard it too many times and they become inevitably desensitised. It’s a complex, human issue that people just don’t want to hear. So we had make it feel exciting and engaging first – something that everyone wants to see, not because they feel they should out of some moral duty. As part of our research we found that smartphones were a crucial tool of survival for refugees – as important as food or water. This sparked a thought, use the phone to tell the story.

What was the reception to the app?

Amazing. On the day of launch it was picked up by over 30 countries, from The New York Times to Mashable, to Daily Mail. Which meant that Finding Home has been downloaded by more than 60 Countries and continues to be picked up and experienced by hundreds of new round the world people every day.

Have you found that people are more understanding since ‘walking in a refugee’s shoes’?

Anecdotally people have said they had to play it all in one sitting, that they really felt they got to know and care about Khat. The parts of the story the team are most proud of are the ‘normal’ ones – where she is joking with mates, talking about favourite music, calling her brother names. That’s really the point – she’s just like you and me, but thrown into a dire situation.

How important has mobile technology been to spread your message?

Everyone has a smartphone. Everyone uses messaging. The experience of someone else’s story playing out on your own phone is really new. When they see it, people instinctively want to share it.