In a contemporary age dominated by technology, tech companies are invariably dedicated to the research, development and production of the next big platform — the next Instagram, the next Facebook, the next TikTok. Such companies do so to generate profits and capitalize on the mass number of people now living their lives online. However, as of late, tech companies have been under harsh criticism and governmental scrutiny. Facebook and TikTok are among the most relevant examples. As consumer confidence in tech companies has diminished, the concept of “doing good” seems at odds with technological advancement. However, a development from Notre Dame’s IDEA Center exemplifies how the two categories aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
Founded in the summer of 2022 by the IDEA Center, which funds and facilitates entrepreneurial activities by students and faculty, the project addresses the issues facing migrants, primarily the difficulty of receiving benefits from social programs, such as healthcare and education. In response to recent events in Afghanistan and Ukraine, the project directly serves immigrants from both countries who come to the U.S. Its target audience, however, expands to more than just migrants. The project has impacted returning citizens, such as those who were recently incarcerated, in keeping with core tenets of Catholic social teaching. For Carlos Espinoza Banegas, a recent graduate with a masters in entrepreneurship technology and innovation and coordinator for the Migrant Impact Network, the question for many businesses becomes, “How are you attentively serving your users? How are you making the world a better place?” Therefore, solidarity for the poor and the vulnerable is one of the primary goals of the Migrant Impact Network as it seeks to promote the common good through modern, alternative means.
The Migrant Impact Network’s model is based on the collaboration among students, faculty, innovators and service providers. The project bridges the gap between for-profit companies by partnering with them. Jiseki, one such tech company, offers an innovative digital application — a social safety net — where numerous government benefits are centralized. Consequently, Jiseki’s primarily migrant and returning citizens user base is connected with primary healthcare, employment, financial, education and food services through a simple text message. Centralizing government resources is especially helpful since it prevents migrants, many of whom face language barriers, from going to multiple institutions for help, while also protecting returning citizens from the prospect of choosing to be reincarcerated. Presently, Jiseki is partnered with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose humanitarian programs already affect many demographics of migrants. The relationship is mutually beneficial, since the former receives greater insights about current and potential users, and the latter achieves its goal of caring for immigrants.
Notre Dame then acts as a consulting entity. Faculty engages in research, gathering qualitative and quantitative data about the relationship and compiling it into a database. Students send emails and engage in discovery calls with managers, individuals in human resources and vice presidents in the hospitality industry to create a database detailing the staff shortage crisis. Then, Jiseki can use this data to direct migrants and returning citizens toward hospitality employment opportunities.
As a collective unit, Notre Dame seeks to research if a tech company’s model is scalable. “The Migrant Impact Network is the director of an orchestra,” Banegas said, “putting together various parts and letting them play their roles so a beautiful song can be produced for the audience: the migrants and refugees.”
The Migrant Impact Network is truly a network within a network. The project exists within a greater entity called the Sorin Impact Network, which consists of smaller programs that address different world issues. “There are lots of problems in the world,” Benegas said. “How can we build technology or create tech startups that can address those needs?”
New programs promoting environmental protection or combatting government corruption in developing countries are possible avenues the Sorin Impact Network may explore in the future. Banegas identified tribute war taxes oppressing citizens in his home country of Honduras. “If you can present a business model, you will attract investors,” he said.
Banegas credited the IDEA Center and its entrepreneurial objective. “The IDEA Center will make ideas happen.” he said, adding that so much good can come about from merely acting upon ideas. The IDEA Center’s promotion and facilitation of alternative solutions to social issues, as seen through the Migrant Impact Network, is a testament to Notre Dame’s mission of being a “force for good” in the world