Shelley Taylor, Creator of RefAid Mobile App, Saves Millions of Migrants and Refugees In Europe.

We’re here today with Shelley to dig a little and expand on the product experience and development of RefAid App.

We’re in 2019, and most humanitarian organizations are not digitized. When I got into the world of product and user experience design work it was out of mere passion and anger that was fueled by crucial systems that remain paper-based and are not digitized. I thrive on migrating paper to building digital systems and figuring out back-end structure and foundations.

I had the pleasure of chatting with one of the most influential women in our technology world who is dedicating her life to saving millions of humans in the European refugee crisis everyday. Owner of RefAid mobile app, Shelley Taylor found her true calling after she saw the picture of the little boy in 2015, who drowned and was washed up along with thousands on the shores of Greece and Italy in the refugee crisis. I will get into the European refugee crisis in detail in a few sections below.

The RefAid app collects data for the end user who is a refugee so they can find the most urgent services. In addition, RefAid connects almost every social organization in Europe that provides services to refugees who are new residents to Europe.

Digitize Service Information To Service Providers

Shelley Taylor makes life easier for European migrants by connecting them to agents who work at non-profit and affiliated-organizations servicing the refugee communities in Europe. Taylor built an application with her small team that provides the European refugee community with affiliated non-profit and non government and humanitarian agencies across Europe. She created a dashboard that connects almost all services with different view modes based on the end user.

Taylor explains:  

But it was when I saw the little baby on the beach island, I just got gut punched, I thought, I just got to do something, and I was reading the articles about how everyone had their phone and I thought you know here I am with this, I had this great technology that makes it possible to make these apps like in an hour you know, so why don’t I make an app that allows the refugees to see the services that are nearest to them, provided by the service providers.

Shelley Taylor connected with the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR & The British Red Cross and asked them what they would you think about implementing a useful tool in their system.

So over the weekend, we spun up this RefAid application, and I thought ok there you go, it’s going to be super easy because everybody who we talked to from the service providers, all thought that was a great idea. But then, it came to getting them to give us their list of services…

Product Mission

Shelley Taylor is bringing refugees together through her platform she built that provides services to organizations and to refugees. Taylor is focusing on a major digitization reform which is a crucial task not many humanitarians are doing.

It will be three years in February 2019, RefAid services are available in 23 countries and about 3000 organizations on the platform. There is potential for more organizations to be on the platform except that, it takes a while before a person put their services into a list that they can then upload.  

Shelley Taylor was trying to solve one problem which evolved into a different and more complex issue. In order for the service information to go on the internet and the app, Shelley realized that service organizations did not have a data base online. To her surprise, she had to manually call organizations asking them for their lists. It took the service providers 10 weeks to get back to her! 10 weeks!

Not due to lack of interest in her product or the advanced platform she had to offer, the reason was simply that these service providers did not have an online list that they can upload and send to Shelley. The agents had to call other offices across Europe and hand-write the list she was looking for to upload to her dashboard.

Back to Shelley, who realized the app she promptly built during the weekend with her team was not the cause of the issue, it was now all on the services to provide her with lists so she can migrate this information online. She explains on the call:

Then I realized, the problem that I was trying to solve was not putting the services on the phone for these people who needed it, who were adults in their home country, who knew where the doctor was before where they lived, before it got bombed, and now they just want to be able to figure that out, when they get to a new country. I thought that was the problem which we were solving. But it turns out that it wasn’t the problem that we had to solve.

Our problem we had to solve was to digitize the service information to service providers in order for it to even go on to the internet and to the app. So that is what has been happening, it will be three years in February 2019.   

Her platform Trellyz aims to digitize the service information to service providers.

UX Researcher and Founder of a Passion project – 

Stakeholder Buy-in and Fast Recruiting to Use The Dashboard

Getting the green light from large organizations to put their information for free on her platform didn’t require much convincing. Almost everyone agreed to posting the organization’s information. The method used to onboard new teams primarily comes from word of mouth or particular ambassadors that reach out.

The British Red Cross, in the U.K, another organization called Migrant Help, in Italy the organization joined is Caritas, and in Belgium it was Doctors of The World.

and they just on their own said this is so important, we’re going to help you, recruit the organizations, so they acted as ambassadors and they did the calling around and the urging of their colleagues and their partner organizations to put their services in.

And the same thing is true in the U.S. like the State of Arizona, for example, makes a big effort to pull in the services you know from different organizations that they know have services. Some of whom don’t want to go on a website and enter themselves even though it only takes 30 seconds to enter a service. So we have a lot of kind of this relationships which is how it works, and now I think it’s primarily just word-of-mouth because I don’t know, we get 10 to a 100 incoming requests to put their services in our platform from different organizations everyday. Now it has kind of reached a critical mass. 

To improve delivery of services so that the end user knows about the app and can show where to go and get services like health care or legal advice. Shelley Taylor, the creator of RefAid app, personally funds the application development to provide services. In the middle of our the call, one of the many insightful and amazing things she said to me were,

We are looking for partner organizations as a for profit company though this is our thing that we want to do for free.

Research is the core of Taylor’s foundation. In another use case, Taylor’s platform called Trellyz brings people together in the literal and technological senses. Geo-location would show where the nearest food bank is and send target messages to volunteers who can help out with their time or people who might be a few blocks away and can enjoy a warm meal. The services of Trellyz platform helps people gain information about local services that can help us with any thing that has to do with coordinating organizations for services.

We all need help sometimes at some point. We might have a kid who has a disability who needs transport, but what if the car is in the shop and we need services providers to have access to our needs. My goal is to map the whole world in community services of which RefAid app is just a small part.

Below is a descriptive image of the App and what it does. It explains using signs that point to refugee, service provider, hospital or law firm. The Office of the provider also is on the dashboard.

Two types of user can benefit from this app. Those working at service providers organizations that involve helping communities and the refugees.

She personally funded this App

The app ties connects the pieces to help refugees in different situations. Refugees can use the app to find a hot meal, a warm shower, immigration services and basically any human based service that is needed for people on a daily basis.

The app ties connects the pieces to help refugees in different situations. Refugees can use the app to find a hot meal, a warm shower, immigration services and basically any human based service that is needed for people on a daily basis.

When the user checks the app, the can see the nearest services and get help they need as quickly as possible. The app primarily uses geo locations to map for users the closest available services.

When the user checks the app, the can see the nearest services and get help they need as quickly as possible. The app primarily uses geo locations to map for users the closest available services.



Who is Shelley Taylor

Shelley Taylor is a tech leader and entrepreneur who‘s held the title of being the world’s expert on annual reports. Originally from Palo Alto, Shelley moved to the United Kingdom around 1996. She focused on building her research firm that provided 100’s of studies on user interface and e-commerce interactions.

In the early 1990’s, Shelley gave advice to Silicon Valley companies on how users interact online. She was an advisor for the majority of the global 2000 companies, including Dell, Microsoft, AOL, and Amazon.

Taylor created many user interface (UI) terms we use today. Taylor’s book, Click-Here Commerce was published out of her research company, InfoFarm. Taylor produced many studies on the state of websites explaining what companies should do on their websites.

Her journey prior to the tech world began in financial services. She was a fund manager, a vc, along many other roles. She also provided valuable services for entertainment production companies.


RefAid App

RefAid is a mobile app that connects refugees who’ve arrived at the shores of Italy and Greece or through France, just thankful to be alive. Once they settle and cope post trauma, they are in dire need of human services like shelter, food, water, a warm shower, health, and legal services

RefAid app connects the person to the appropriate Non Government Organization with aid organizations. The app serves refugee digital users who can sign on, and navigate their way in finding humanitarian services in Europe.

These people are not only displaced, they mostly have no sense of feeling assimilated to this new place, and are surely traumatized.

Shelleys app RefAid is number one on the iOS App Store in August 2018.

A term given to a period in 2013 when rising numbers of people arrived in the European Union from across the Mediterranean Sea or overland through Southeast Europe.

Between 2010 and 2013, around 1.4 million non-EU nationals, excluding asylum seekers and refugees arrived in the EU each year, with a slight decrease after 2010 According to the UNHCR, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide during the refugee crisis reached 59.5 million at the end of 2014.

Of the migrants arriving in Europe by sea in 2015, 58% were males over 18 years of age (77% of adults), 17% were females over 18 (22% of adults) and the remaining 25% were under 18. The number of deaths at sea rose to record levels in April 2015, when five boats carrying almost 2,000 migrants to Europe sank in the Mediterranean Sea, with a combined death toll estimated at more than 1,200 people. The shipwrecks took place in a context of ongoing conflicts and refugee crises in several Asian and African countries, which increased the total number of forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2014 to almost 60 million, the highest level since World War II.

European Migrant Crisis

Questions I Asked During our Call

  1. What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant person or family in the context of Europe?

  2. How is RefAid app helping migrants after almost two years? 

  3. I’d like to get a little technical with the mobile development process. I'm interested in how you and your team built the connection between the aid organization and the user, who is in dire need of this service.: my question is How did you and your team build this user narrative that lead you to create a mobile app over the weekend? 

  4. What research methods do you and your team apply to increase user engagement?

  5. Tell us a little about your main platform Trellyz that sprouted other services. How did you see a niche to build a location based mobile application that helps serve the refugee crisis in Europe and mainly connects governments with society at critical times?

  6. Our final question for you today is what would you like to say to our audience listening from the United States and other countries around the world, about RefAid app and how to place empathy at the core of our narrative?

Digitizing the System from paper based to online.

And it turned out they didn’t have a list of services. A shock that came to Taylor was lack of data base of listed services. Even the the biggest organizations don’t have any forms of documentation online. It took the RefAid team ten weeks to collect lists of service providers. The surprise was when she asked why it took so long, most teams responded that they had to call every office and ask for the lists over the phone which is how got the first list of three hundred services. Taylor jokingly adds that she could’ve walked across the U.K. to collect the data in that amount of time.

Listen to our Interview here:

Link to the audio version of our conversation.

I truly appreciated this wonderful conversation and hope to see the RefAid app grow and serve all the global citizens of the world. Thank you for your time.