Helping newly resettled refugees gain financial independence


Throughout history, thousands of people have been displaced from their homes due to war and persecution. Not only do they have to endure having lost their home, and been displaced from their hometown or native country, they also have to worry about finding a solution to resettle elsewhere. Refugees often end up moving to a country where they do not speak the native language, nor do they have much context and understanding of the local traditions and customs. But not all hope is lost. There are opportunities to improve their transition, help them resettle, and consequently help them start a new life.

Building credit in the United States is no piece of cake. For a native US citizen, this begins at a young age when they work part time jobs through high school and college. However, things are more complicated for a newcomer. Building credit is a very confusing and complicated ordeal. Not only do refugees have to learn how the financial system works, they also have to understand what is a credit score, how this is calculated, and how this may affect their financial future. Having an almost to none credit history, hinders a refugee’s possibility to succeed in America.




Social Good, Consumer Finance


1 day, Hack Summit


User interview, ideation, sketching, and designing


On October 2017, I was part of a team of Moment designers who were invited to the Refugee Hack Summit, a one-day hackathon, with the goal to change the lives of resettled refugees in the United States.

The Summit organizers provided us with a design brief that provided us with critical information about refugees and the institutions that support them. We decided to focus our design thinking process to find a solution to help them build their credit history. Having a solid credit score and history often leads to financial stability and independence. We wanted to help refugees become financially savvy and successful.

Dot voting exercise to decide where to focus our design effort


In preparation for the hackathon, our team needed to understand the problem in more depth. We gathered additional information through secondary research and informal interviews with recent immigrants, to better define their journey once they arrive in America and begin to build a new life.

We cannot assume that all financial systems are the same across the world. There are other informal systems that provide citizens with financial independence in countries like Ghana or India, without relying on formal institutions like a traditional bank or a credit union. In some cases, there are refugees who have never had a bank account in their lives. So how do you introduce them to the concept of credit history? The key is education.

We mapped the user journey to understand the pain points and how long it would take for a refugee family to be able to start building credit history in the United States

Aspire: educating refugees towards financial freedom

How can you educate when you have disparate levels of literacy among all incoming refugees? We defined three design principles to guide us through this process:

  • Be accessible anywhere at anytime
  • Leverage knowledge from the community
  • Support long-term understanding and learning

Considering a refugee’s journey, we decided to design a digital tool that had three main components: Learn, Practice, and Inspire.

  • Pitch presentation
  • Prototyping
  • Sketching
  • User interviews
  • User journey
  • Value proposition

  • Learning in your native language

    We wanted to give refugees the opportunity to learn these key concepts by doing incremental educational modules catered to all levels of literacy. Through videos and audio vignettes, refugees can learn the foundation of credit history in their native language. This will make their learning much easier by providing concepts to them that they can understand. Each module ends with a quiz to ensure that the user learns the main concepts before moving on to the next level.

    Practicing to master concepts

    Inspired by books where a reader chooses their own adventure, we designed a game that allows users to practice what they learn, at their own time and pace. The core idea was to gamify learning a difficult subject and understanding how this applies to your real world by asking a simple question where the user needs to pick an answer to be able to see the outcome. This concept can help refugees understand the consequences of their financial decisions and understand its impact in real life, as the credit score may increase or decrease.

    Building community through inspiring stories

    The last component of our digital solution was based on the sense of helping refugees with support from other refugees in their community. We learned that refugees are often settled with others from their community, and already settled refugees have a desire to contribute and help. By having the opportunity to view or listen to podcasts, they can learn from past experiences, share success stories as well as cautionary tales.

    Design team: Daniela Vizcaino, Jasmine Lai, Pratima Mani, Cheng Cheng Zhao, Hanley Weng, Gena Hong, Sam Szerlip, Sahib Singh (not pictured, Yixiu Wu)


    I'd like to share a few thoughts about our process. Overall, I think we were more than prepared to tackle this challenge. We had the opportunity to do research prior to the hackathon, and this was very useful to set out mindset on the problem we wanted to solve. The issue is that as we researched, we wanted to learn more and go deeper, and this can be challenging when you have to refrain from ever expanding to try to narrow down your focus.

    Also, our team was large (we had eight people). We were able to pull in our superpowers and work as fast as we could by dividing and conquering the different things that needed to get done: prototype of the solution, a document explaining our process, and a pitch deck. But in my opinion, as well as the rest of the team, our team size was too big. We could have broken up into smaller groups and tackle the other challenges in the hackathon. Having a huge team made it difficult for us to make quick decisions on the fly. We were very democratic and let everyone voice their opinions and ideas, but when time is of the essence, it is better to have fewer people working together. Having more time to ideate or sketch would have been very useful for us, and we would have had more time to design a more visual prototype, rather than just showcase wireframes. In any case, I think our solution was effective because we tackled the key problem of education as a foundation to help refugees learn about credit and eventually become financially independent.