Sparrow’s RefugeeMobile Program Shows Smartphones Help Refugee Families Arriving in the US Resettle More Successfully

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The results are in: research shows that smartphones help refugees resettle more successfully. RefugeeMobile, a smartphone program launched in May 2016 with the goal of helping refugee families arriving in the US resettle more successfully, has developed a proven program for refugees who have access to smartphones and data service. Recipients are more likely to integrate, be employed, and have higher paying jobs, according to new research.

The program was designed by Sparrow in partnership with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and Refugee Services of Texas (RST), evaluated by the University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO), and funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Vodafone Americas Foundation with support from Tableau Foundation. RefugeeMobile aims to help refugees get on their feet, while also expanding the capacity for the agencies that serve them as their resources continue to be constrained. The phones are preloaded with apps such as English learning, transportation, banking and communications, and then distributed by resettlement agencies when families first arrive in the US.

A new study by LEO demonstrates that the smartphones and digital access provided by RefugeeMobile make a difference by enabling people to connect with support networks, overcome language barriers, access key services, and navigate their new communities more easily.

“On behalf of all the RefugeeMobile partners, funders and clients, we are so excited to report the conclusions and findings from LEO on the first phase of our project,” notes Matt Bauer, CEO of Sparrow. “Our overarching goal from the outset is to improve the lives of newly settled refugees in America, and now we have data-driven proof that bespoke mobile services create better connection with caseworkers and the local community, while increasing job prospects and reducing isolation in their newly settled communities.”

Through a randomized control trial evaluation by LEO and funded by a MacArthur Foundation Discovery Grant to RST, a sample of refugees resettled in Texas were randomly selected to receive a smartphone with special preloaded apps designed to help them adjust to life in the US, upon arrival. The study found families who received RefugeeMobile smartphones made more progress than those who did not, with promising results—they are 28% more likely to have internet at home; 45% more likely to interact with someone from a different culture; 38% more likely to visit their child’s teacher to discuss performance at school; and 9% of the families reported that they could converse in English “very well” as opposed to no one in the control group. Program participants were also potentially more likely to be employed and have higher paying jobs, though these results are not statistically significant.

The program helped resettlement agencies, too. Equipping refugees with mobile tools to “self-serve” and assist with translation, navigation/transportation, communication and job seeking, freed case managers to focus on deeper challenges of integration. Participants had fewer interactions with case managers, especially in-person meetings, and a much higher percent of interactions were by phone. Full study results will be published by LEO in a peer-reviewed academic journal. According to Dr. William Evans, co-founder of LEO, Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Economics at Notre Dame and lead author of the study, “The results are very encouraging and the hope is to expand this experiment on a much larger scale to more fully understand the potential role that smartphones can play for vulnerable populations.”

One participant expressed how the phone made a difference for her stating, “There is no life without a smartphone. One phone call can save my life. It makes me alive. If my kids are sick, one phone call might save their life. It’s like having another person help me.”

Expanding RefugeeMobile to Help More Refugees and Separated Families

Building on success from the 18-month demonstration pilot in Texas, and backed by a grant from the Vodafone Americas Foundation, RefugeeMobile is entering its second phase — creating a scalable platform and expanding to additional localities and resettlement agencies including Catholic Charities Fort Worth, HIAS, and Jewish Family Services of Seattle.

The program is seeking additional funding to expand to other key resettlement areas in the US, as well as helping families separated at the border reunite by providing cell phones, data plans, and relevant content to help coordinate legal and reunification services. Wireless customers in the US can also sign up for Sparrow to sponsor phones and data plans for refugee families and other communities in need.

About: RefugeeMobile is a cross-sector initiative that provides technology to help immigrants integrate and thrive in their new home. Learn more at

Sparrow is a US mobile services provider with a social mission: End digital poverty. Sparrow customers help under-served communities gain digital access with every month of service. Learn more at

Source: Press Release (link opens in a new window)

Technology, Telecommunications
migrants, refugees, research, telecommunications