Michael Cesar and Rhys Richmond were in a civil engineering class focused on the refugee crisis when they thought of Duet, a website dedicated to creating an easier way to provide aid for refugee populations.
Cesar, an alumnus who majored in international relations and business administration, and Richmond, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering, wanted to help local populations receive direct support. Duet allows anyone to purchase and donate items such as electronics, toys, clothing, hygiene products and other necessities to resettled refugees.
“You would go to our website, you would go on to one of our families’ pages,” Cesar said. “On that page, you’ll see the name of the family, their photo, a little bit of a blurb about who they are, what they like, what their dreams are, what their favorite sports are, and then underneath that blurb, you’ll see the items they need.”
The company was launched in 2018 with the mission of eliminating inefficiencies in the current system of providing aid to these refugees by connecting donors directly with refugee populations around the world. Duet, with a core team of seven members, has helped 15 families by supplying over $5,000 in aid.
“You would select any of those items, put them in a basket and then pay, and then as soon as you pay, you’ll get a confirmation email that the money is being transferred to the stores,” Cesar said.
As of today, operations have mostly been conducted in Greece, the main entry point for refugees fleeing the Middle East and North Africa into Europe. Looking forward, Duet plans to continue to add features to the app and expand to other countries with significant refugee populations.
Spencer Petty, a senior majoring in journalism and the head of marketing for Duet, first heard about the organization from Cesar.
“My brother was friends with a family of refugees in Nashville, where I’m from, and he helped them do things like get health insurance, etc … I was kind of exposed to the obstacles that they face when they’re trying to resettle,” Petty said. “It is really cool to pause and take a look back and look at these families who we have really, like — we have changed their lives immensely.”
Cesar believes that Duet stands out because the platform is able to empower refugees by giving them the autonomy to request exactly what they need and communicate with donors. He also said the company contributes to eliminating stigma surrounding resettled families in local communities.
Both founders credit the class, Innovation in Engineering Design for Global Challenges, for bringing them together and helping them to brainstorm an idea for real-world policy solutions. The class made it possible for both students to travel to Greece.
“Not only did [the class] take us there to begin with, but we have four very, very important mentors and professors that we got out of the class as well, and those four have been kind of instrumental in our success,” Cesar said. “Short term, our goals are sort of as simple as we’re just trying to grow. You know, we want to drive as many people to the site as possible just so we can provide more items to our partner families.”
For donors, contributing through Duet is also a rewarding experience, as it connects refugees and donors in a personal way.
Sarah Danson, an alumna who majored in business administration and public policy, recently donated a pair of sweatpants to a family and received a message from the family.
“One of my good friends Michael, has been really, really passionate about and signed up for that class to help come up with different solutions to the refugee crisis in Greece,” Danson said. “I think what’s cool about their approach is that it’s a really easy way to feel like you have an impact.”
Cesar said in the process of creating and launching the site, he learned about the importance of the refugee crisis and how a small contribution to struggling families is meaningful.
“What we’ve learned is the deep resilience of people that we’ve seen in our refugee families and how actually they only need a little bit of help to really realize their potential, and they have a lot of potential,” Cesar said.