Migration Challenge – tech start-up competition to achieve tangible solutions in migration


Migration Challenge – tech start-up competition to achieve tangible solutions in migration

United Nations

JULY 13, 2021





The IOE, in partnership with Seedstars, a start-up incubator, and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, championed the Migration Challenge competition, featured at the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). This partnership is designed to support impact-driven ventures focused on addressing labour migration with the aid of technology and innovative solutions. It aims to support tech start-ups by providing them with a platform to build partnerships with governments and other stakeholders. Program offers training, mentoring, and participation in business events and pitching sessions during the GFMD Summit.


Within a year of the release of the SDGs, 49% of CEOs surveyed by the UNGC considered business to be the single most important actor in realizing the goals. Start-ups, investors and tech industry can be a powerful force to reduce poverty, generate economic opportunities. IOE believes in partnerships and brings these forces together at a State-led Forum on migration, with objective to find the most promising and disruptive tech start-ups that are addressing labour migration. Migration Challenge startups competition addresses more than just one SDGs. Their products and services offer innovative solutions to support financial and social inclusion, economic and educational empowerment, access to the right skills and access to legal information for vulnerable groups.

Contribution to SDG Implementation

Competition draws startups from fintech, edtech, healthtech, blockchain technology and human resources sectors, which have an impact on emerging markets. IOE-Seedstars-SDC partnership contributes directly to sustainable implementation of SDG 8, 10 and 17 by supporting tech start-ups whose beneficiaries are vulnerable groups who need access to banking, information, and connection to decent and productive work and indirectly creating ripple effects on SDGs 1, 2, 3, 4 respectively. Particularly start-up solutions address and support the SDG 10.7 to facilitate regular migration.

Implementation methodologies

The Migration Challenge competition annual cycle launches in spring, with dedicated outreach campaign to source new tech start-ups who meet the pre-defined criteria of offering innovative tech solutions to migration challenges. The goal is to find more sustainable and scalable solutions to the migration issues, showcase the latest tech businesses and promote their business model at the GFMD, a State-led, multistakeholder forum on migration. Moreover, in the context of Covid-19, the Challenge increased in relevance as it offers start-ups with much-needed support as they struggle to navigate the economic challenges created by the pandemic. Sourced start-ups are actively encouraged to apply and compete for the chance to present at the GFMD Summit and win the first prize which is the three months acceleration program and access to World Seedstars Summit. Both IOE and Seedstars collaborate closely to source, screen, interview, select the finalists and to bring them to the final stage. During the selection process start-ups discuss their solutions they are addressing in cross-cutting issues of labour migration management which overlap with SDG2030 targets. Selected finalists are trained and mentored in the art of pitching and presenting their solutions to the governments at the GFMD. Jury Panel consisting of global experts from the field are invited to identify the winners. To sustain the partnership, IOE has developed a network of Migration Challenge finalist start-ups, where they can continue to enhance their human capital and grow networks with governments and employers organisations. Supporting start-ups with focus on labour migration issues is a triple win with long term gains for business, government and communities, at the heart of which lies many SDG targets.


In the past two years of partnership, Migration challenge has received about 200 applications and after selection process, total of 28 tech start-up finalists have been chosen to showcase business pitches to the GFMD community. While there are many competitions, this partnership is unique: it is the one of a kind that focus on tech start-ups addressing migration management, with impact on emerging markets. Startups’ innovative solutions specifically address SDG 8, 10, and 17 targets facilitating fair and responsible recruitment and mobility of talent across countries, providing easy, and accessible banking facilities for remittances, providing training and education to fill the labour market skills gaps. The winner of 2020, Rwandan BAG Innovation is a platform that uses Artificial Intelligence and Gamification to revolutionize the future of career guidance, 2021 winner Colombian DignifAI taps into AI supply chain to job creation and economic integration of migrants in border regions.

Factors and Constraints

Health pandemic has been single worse constraint for the labour migrants being stranded in borders, loosing livelihoods or legal status, becoming vulnerable to irregular recruitment practices. At the same time, Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the process of automation and digitalization with splinter effects on different spheres of job market. Leveraging technologies is the key element of the start-ups participating in the Migration Challenge. They are using this opportunity as enabling factor to contribute to the facilitation of easy, orderly and regular migration process.

Sustainability and replicability

Innovation and technology are the core elements start-ups use in this competition. Leveraging technologies to address cross cutting migration and SDG targets will greatly benefit the sustainable economic recovery in post Covid period. Technology gives the opportunity to offer digital financial services or simplifies recruitment procedures without cumbersome and time-consuming bureaucratic processes. In terms of the SDGs, this supports economic development and reduces inequality, facilitates more transparent and regular migration pathways to operate smoothly. These services in turn can be transferred and replicated. Fintech start-ups are excellent example, as governments and companies look for solutions to serve the underbanked and increase financial literacy, which translates to financial resilience, security, and empowerment. When people have financial security, their children can obtain access to better educational opportunities enabling better integration in their host societies.

COVID-19 Impact

Due Covid-19 all of the on the ground activities of the Migration Challenge competition were moved to virtual format. While tech start-ups had no difficulty adapting to technological process of the competition, moving the GFMD Summit to an online format had compelled the organizers to make changes to the final stage of the program. To ensure good visibility of the finalists during the GFMD process, finalists were offered access to all open stakeholder events, and were given a change to connect bilaterally with the specific governments of their interests. After competition, alumni network has been formed to continue supporting these finalists to connect with relevant governments, businesses, events and opportunities to make greater impact.

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