From a computer screen in Whistler, Anita Naidu helps to deploy a groundbreaking web app to help refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Somalia.
PeaceGeeks, the Vancouver-based non-profit that focuses on advancing peace and human rights, is a finalist for a prestigious Google Impact Challenge award, among about 900 organizations across Canada that rallied for grants, of which 10 — including PeaceGeeks — are finalists.
PeaceGeeks, Naidu said, has been operational for about five years, with its app deployed for about two, and is up against contenders such as the Canadian Red Cross and Canada Foodbanks for $750,000 grants each in the Google Impact awards.
"Our main project is a web-based platform that allows refugees and immigrants to have direct access to services that are available," said Naidu, who added the app was developed based on a need expressed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
"Because we're working with UNHCR, they deploy the service and the service providers get the word out so all of the people who are providing shelter, language services, water, housing, counselling skills — they use our app as well."
As one of the 10 finalists, PeaceGeeks has already been awarded $250,000, but the additional $500,000 would allow the group to expand its services in B.C. and Canada.
"Canada has 300,00 newcomers every year and B.C. has 40,000," said Naidu, who is based in Whistler. "So this app allows newcomers to understand better how they can go about getting information to help their families.
"Let's say you're a family of four: It's overwhelming to show up in a new country, but with this app, you can actually personalize your circumstances as to what you need and what you want. For example, if you've got two kids, you're looking for schools, and where can they go to get (an) ESL course, where to register for MSP — all of this can be personalized for them."
Naidu noted that a company such as PeaceGeeks is tapping into increased community engagement, particularly in the Sea to Sky corridor.
"This is showing Whistlerites that you can have a vision and you can implement it," she said. "We attract a lot of very intelligent, very ambitious people who ask: 'How can I help, how can I have an impact?'"
Naidu said the incredible access available through the Internet translates into what she calls an increased "connection to your own world compass" that is heightened in mountain-culture towns because life is so good in this environment, but because of that, it is fragile.
"We have an understanding of what's happening, but it can seem so far removed," she said.
"We're so connected now that anything that happens in the world has a ripple effect."
In a press release, vice-president of Google Canada, Sam Sebastian said: "It's not every day that you get a chance to make the world a better place on such a significant scale, and I would encourage every Canadian to vote..."
You can vote for your favourite Google Impact contender at www.impactchallenge.withgoogle.com/canada2017.