The Norwegian innovation camp, in the framework of the Equals EU project, was held last May around the topic “closing the digital divide for gender minorities”. Andrea, Marianne and Lina received first place with their idea intitled “MOTHER”, a solution to help the growing Thai community of women settle in Norway, cope with the arcane regulatory procedures and help them find a job independently from their husbands.
Missions Publiques. You intitled your solution MOTHER but your team is called MAD, for “Make a Difference”. Why these two names?
Andrea: MAD is a shortened version of “Making A Difference”, and at the same time we are outraged about the injustices in the world and we want to be able to make a change. We want to dare to be a little crazy, dare to think in a new way and we’re proud to say we’re a little funky!
Marianne: There are almost 10,000 Thai migrant women living in Norway. While some come for work or study, the majority who stay long-term are family migrants; either wives of Norwegians, or children of Thai wives. We decided to name the solution Mother, as a tribute to these women who are often moving away from their homeland, without their mother and sometimes on the verge of becoming one. Our goal is simple: the platform will enable them to apply for jobs in Norway and in their own language. Once their kids grow up or are old enough to go to school, Thai women must have a chance to find a job if they want to. We invite them to seize that chance through MOTHER.
“There are a lot of rights in Norway, but you have to be resourceful to find the rights you’re intitled to”.
What are the challenges Thai women in Norway face? What solutions will you bring to them through MOTHER?
Lina: My own mother is originally from Thailand, and she may be one of the women who will need our assistance. These women often have difficulty finding suitable and long-term full time employment in Norway. It is very challenging for many Thai women to start their life again in Norway where aspects of life work differently. They have to find out how the unfamiliar rules and unwritten rules work in their daily life with limited ability. Language is one of the most challenging problems in order to adapt into Norwegian society.
In term of family, and according to our research, Thai women experience life in Norway based on their natal family’s expectations and obligations that influenced by the collectivist thinking on their goals in life. They largely embrace self-coping strategies. Our platform will provide them with a world of information, in their own language, that will get them get through life independently.
Andrea: Upon arriving in Norway, women have trouble navigating the regulatory and administrative tasks necessary for employment and operating a business. They can feel initially overwhelmed by the administrative responsibilities associated with running a business in Norway and their challenges are compounded by language barriers and a need to independently learn how to complete business paperwork.
What we know from Lina’s experience is that these women often have very basic technical skills. They play a lot of Candy Crush; they use Facebook to interact with family. But most of them struggle to do their taxes, to open a bank account because it’s usually their Norwegian husband who does this task. Many don’t know how to write emails or to communicate professionally online. This is also a part of the digital divide that we want to close a little more. By giving them an access to the world of information online, they will be more easily integrated socially and professionally.
Marianne: There are a lot of rights in Norway, but you have to be resourceful to find the rights you’re intitled to. We found out, while doing our research, that Thai women faced many problems with their employers while not knowing their rights as employees. What is abusive on a work market? What is illegal for an employer to do? How can I report an incident? How can I defend myself in court? These are questions that the platform will address.
Andrea: But whether you are Norwegian and speak the local language or not, these regulatory and administrative tasks are complicated to understand. Even I don’t understand them! So, we will provide the information in a simplified manner in the language of their birth.
“Migration flows from Thailand to Norway have been increasing and Thai women are the largest group that come to Norway through the family migration channel.
Missions Publiques. During the Equals EU innovation camp, points are given to the “deployment” of the solution and its innovative aspect. What makes “Mother” so innovative and how do you envisage the next steps?
Andrea: Innovation is all about using old solutions in new ways to help more people. In Norway, we have this platform dedicated to helping people get jobs called NAV. It works well when you understand Norwegian or English well and have good technical computer skills. But for any other immigrants who don’t speak the language, it can quickly become chaotic. So, we thought of those who struggled while using the existing tool and considered universal design. Creating new solutions for the new era, while challenging the norms is the best way to go. Why should we need to conform to the framework that society has already placed on us?
Marianne: First, I would say that our idea is also scalable and can grow to different minority groups in Norway. NAV doesn’t work for specific groups but is nation-wide. The Thai community falls outside what NAV can do. Then, Thai women are often scattered across the country and don’t always live in the capital or big cities; meaning they aren’t automatically connected to other Thai women. Our solution will help them get in touch with other women who are in the same situation as them.
Lina: As a result of migration, Norway’s population is becoming more diverse. Migration flows from Thailand to Norway have been increasing and Thai women are the largest group that come to Norway through the family migration channel. And this may lead some women to draw upon their networks to establish their own businesses and create their own employment opportunity. Figuring out what they actually need is the biggest step, building the platform won’t take too long. It’s got a lot of potential, and we look forward to bringing it to the Equals EU summer camp next year, and meeting all the other participants who attended hackathons and innovation camps globally!