An app funded by a team of volunteers is helping to build lasting connections between Luxembourg’s community of displaced people and privileged donors.
Like many people in Luxembourg, banker Emanuele Santi was struck by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the numbers of displaced families arriving in Western Europe. His first instinct was to give what he could.
He posted a message on Facebook offering the bikes his two sons had outgrown to a refugee family. “A family arrived and seeing the faces of these kids touched me so deeply, that I decide to offer up my garage as a distribution point for bikes for refugees,” Santi told Silicon.
Within two months, the initiative distributed 300 second-hand bikes and had five distribution points. They organised evenings where people could drop off and collect the bikes and Santi realised that more than just redistributing bikes, the initiative served as an important meeting point where newcomers were able to build critical local connections.
“Out of those meetings, kids were joining football clubs, people would find jobs or workspaces and all because people were donating bikes and wanted to engage,” he said, adding: “It was incredible.”
The Riding The Rainbow app evolved out of a need to connect donors with beneficiaries. Santi recalled that one time he was working away from home and was unable to handle the collection and distribution of a bike. He put the donor in touch with the recipient and then something incredible happened. “She brought the bike to the family who were living in a camp and realised they had three kids but she only had one bike. To everyone’s surprise, she went to Auchan and bought two brand new bikes.”
Santi reckons that empowering donors and facilitating these kinds of meetings is essential for unlocking the full pfotential of solidarity. He said: “We are so used to delegating charity to others and staying in our bubble remaining in our comfort zone. But when a human being has a chance to really meet and touch, penetrate the grief of the other. Oftentimes we can see unexpected reactions like this one.”
Santi, who is now running the project as a full-time volunteer, is funding the project through support from Œuvre Nationale de Secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte and Fondation André Losch, and a donation from a private funder. The app itself was developed by programmers in Ukraine.
Since it went live in September 2022, it has facilitated donations in Luxembourg, Spain and Italy.
Santi said: “We’ve had over 35 organisations signing up to this initiative and we’re very proud of that.” Among these are the Red Cross, which is actively using the app to gather donations of musical instruments and sports equipment for their centres for displaced people.
Riding The Rainbow can also be used to make donations of toys and electronics.
“We hope to grow and we hope to find partners that are willing to provide resources to be able to put this on a sustainable path. Because we believe if we can scale this, we can become the next Uber for solidarity,” the founder said.