Patrick Oathout ’14 first became interested in refugee issues because of a focus program he took his freshman year at Duke.

Through the BorderWork(s) Lab at Franklin Humanities Institute, Oathout, a philosophy and public policy major, was able to develop his own independent study to begin researching innovative ways to help refugees.

It was through this research that he decided to take a social entrepreneurship approach to the refugee crisis.

His first idea was to build an app called Uhuru Mobile that would function as a reporting mechanism for conflicts or crises. For example, users would be able to report problems such as food delivery being blocked or a dwindling water supply.

Oathout attended Clinton Global Initiative University at the end of his sophomore year, where his work on Uhuru Mobile was recognized by Chelsea Clinton.

Ultimately, Oathout realized that the idea wouldn’t work after his research told him that often, the worst-affected areas don’t have access to mobile phones to support the app.

But Oathout still wanted to build an app to help refugees. So he pivoted toward a new model – this time, he built Uhuru, a Yelp-like app on which users could rate refugee-owned businesses, both domestically and abroad.

During a DukeEngage trip to Jordan, he was able to beta test the app, which was a great learning process for him. He learned that although Jordanians had pretty strong familiarity with technology, some other subgroups had user experience issues.

Overall, Oathout said he worked on the project about a year and a half, whitelabeling the app himself and launching it for availability on the App Store.

The key trait for an entrepreneur to have, Oathout said, is persistence. It’s also important to put your ideas out to the consumer population as soon as possible – that’s how he realized he needed to pivot before he put too many resources into an idea that wouldn’t pan out.

Now, Oathout works in consulting for Bain & Co, where he is still involved in the business world and also gets to satisfy his social entrepreneurship side by doing consulting for nonprofits.

In the future, he sees himself doing something at the intersection of technology and public policy.

“The public policy space can be frustrated when the same solutions are implemented again and again without much result,” Oathout said. “But technology can make a change in the space quickly by offering action-oriented, impactful solutions.”

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