Shopify lends a hand to the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program

Posted on Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Shopify employees sit around a large table while working on the software.

By Johanne Adam

The Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, which was recently put in place by the Faculty of Law's refugee hub, is already enjoying phenomenal success.

On October 1, 2015, the room the program organizers had booked for an information briefing at Ottawa City Hall was packed: nearly 1000 people showed up at the event, and about 450 individuals who were thinking about sponsoring a refugee attended the legal clinic organized by the program. The turnout completely exceeded the organizers’ expectations!

Although all the interest in this new program is certainly welcome, it has generated its own set of problems. Now there aren’t enough volunteers, especially to manage all the paperwork created by this high demand, given that this paperwork is still printed on actual paper!

That’s when employees from Shopify decided to pitch in. On an entirely volunteer basis, they created a software application that helps the program volunteers manage requests and speeds up case processing.

“We no longer need to manually create case files. The application allows us to match lawyers with sponsors and helps improve case follow-up,” said Emily Bates, Director of the Refugee Hub, an agency that helps train volunteers for the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program. “It also helps the parties communicate with each other.”

A group of seven Shopify employees worked on this project during Hack Days, a company initiative that allows staff members to work on a project of their choice for 48 hours.

Thanks to the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, groups and individuals who want to sponsor refugees can receive support from law students and lawyers, all of whom are volunteers. The program aims to accelerate the sponsorship process. To date, some 90 Ottawa area lawyers have signed up to help.

And the program’s popularity has spread well beyond the National Capital Region: lawyers in Toronto, British Columbia, Calgary and Halifax will also soon be receiving training.

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