Innovation Spotlight #2: The Migrant Impact Network

Author: The IDEA Center

Min The Migrant Impact Team: (L-R) Ryan McManus; Vera Kamm; Andres Alvarez; Roquia Samim; Ilaria Schnyder von Wartensee; Carlos Espinoza Banegas; and Mark Bourgeois

What do you get when you combine a trip to Walmart for bed sheets, three student ‘minterns’ and an idea for change in immigration? The Migrant Impact Network.

Founded in the summer of 2022, the Migrant Impact Network was created with the fundamental goal and belief that technology should be used for good. By interlacing the University of Notre Dame and the IDEA Center with technological services that provide help for immigrants, the Migrant Impact Network is bridging technology with traditional Catholicism in a positive manner. This initiative is a collaboration between faculty, students, innovators and Catholic aid partners, all with the goal of deploying and evaluating the impact of life-changing technology. 

Who are they?

The Migrant Impact Network is composed of a diverse group of students, recent graduates and faculty and staff from within the Notre Dame community.

Currently, the Migrant Impact Network has three student ‘minterns’ (slang for Migrant Impact Network interns). Vera Kamm ‘24 is a political science major. Andres Alvarez ‘25 is a sociology and psychology major. And Ryan McManus ‘24 is a philosophy major with a minor in computing and digital technology. 

The team also has two recent graduates from Notre Dame. Carlos Espinoza Banegas, who recently graduated with a Master of Entrepreneurship, Technology and Innovation (ESTEEM), serves as the coordinator for the Migrant Impact Network. Roquia Samim, who recently graduated with a Master of International Human Rights Law, worked as a human rights defender and activist in Afghanistan before attending Notre Dame. She also participated in human rights services for the United Nations. 

Lastly, the Migrant Impact Network includes two Notre Dame professors. Mark Bourgeois is a philosopher and visiting professor in the technology and ethics department and Ilaria Schnyder von Wartensee is a assistant research professor at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. The Migrant Impact Network was a good transition for Schnyder von Wartensee to continue her work with migrants and refugees. While in Italy, she worked for five years with migrants and refugees. She came to the Migrant Impact Network because of her experience with migrants and refugees but also because of her passion for storytelling and consulting work. 

“This team perfectly exemplifies the beauty of the Notre Dame community. We have different majors,  entrepreneurial minds and people who studied immigration services and international human rights. We can all come together and get the key people to help make a difference in people's lives. That is what is great about our team and the Migrant Impact Network as a whole,” said Alvarez.

The problem: 

The Migrant Impact Network believes there is a disconnect between technology and Catholicism's traditional value of doing the common good. This is a much-needed opportunity for change. In a politically charged society like our own, migrant communities fall victim to a lack of resources. This is seen in migrant populations such as in Ukraine, Haiti and south of the border countries like Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia and Honduras. Currently, the goal of the Migrant Impact Network is to provide aid to migrants from Afghanistan.

In the future, the team hopes to expand aid to micro populations from various countries. There has been a huge recent influx of Afghan migrants of up to 70,000 from the Trump Administration that has been carried on by the Biden Administration due to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country. As a result, the Taliban has gained control over the government, and due to security concerns and breaches of human rights carried out by the Taliban, Afghan nationals have had to leave the country and migrate to the U.S. 

When they arrive they often struggle to gain access to health care, food and clothes and how to navigate a new country.

The solution: 

The Migrant Impact Network finds solutions to the problems. First, the 'minterns' are building a brand identity from the ground up. The current methodology aims to build a dual website. The team will do this by using data visualization to give a macro view of what is happening and how technology is being used in innovative ways to help. Also, through interviews and storytelling, the Migrant Impact Network will get a personal view and platform of the migrants so they can express their experiences. 

“I have enjoyed working with this group. All of us have different skill sets. Usually, when you bring a group together with different skills, it can become troublesome. But for us, we work great and come together to create greatness.” said Kamm.