The Vancouver-based non-profit PeaceGeeks — with a project member who lives and works in Whistler — has won the Google Impact Challenge award, beating out about 900 competitors across Canada with its innovative web app that helps refugees.
“It’s been a crazy morning,” said Anita Naidu, who learned that PeaceGeeks won the award and the $750,000 funding that goes with it. “This is just incredible, mind-boggling news.
“We’re such a small team,” Naidu said of the three members of PeaceGeeks. “I think the community support helped a lot. Whistler is my home and was super supportive.”
The funding allows PeaceGeeks to bring the web app not just to Metro Vancouver, but to B.C. and all over Canada. PeaceGeeks previously deployed its app to help refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Syria.
PeaceGeeks has been operational for about five years, with its app deployed for about two.
"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.
"Canada has 300,00 newcomers every year and B.C. has 40,000 so this app allows newcomers to understand better how they can go about getting information to help their families.”
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."