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Derek Smith Uses Mobile App to Empower Refugee Community

Written by: Arian Augustus

Derek Smith hails from Garland, TX, by way of Lubbock, TX. He is a graduate of University of North Texas with a bachelor's degree in History. After completing his education, Derek became a mentor for a domestic violence shelter; that experience inspired him to enter the nonprofit world. Derek's work now centers on facilitating anti-violence groups for adult male abusers, creating anti-drug curriculums for children in homeless shelters across the city of Dallas, and most recently he has become a caseworker for refugees from across the world. Working with refugees inspired Derek to create "The Collective for Refugees and Immigrants," a mobile app available currently available in 7 languages to assist newcomers in locating culturally appropriate resources.

Read on to learn how this Dude with Depth encourages others to reach for their noblest selves.

Was there a significant moment in your childhood where someone really invested in your well-being or someone who provided an example of how to be an advocate for empowering others?

My mom tried to sign me up for Big Brothers Big Sisters, but the waiting list was too long. Rather than taking no for an answer, she started a similar program within our church for adolescents such as myself to be paired up with older teenagers. I think that was a significant moment because it was the first time I really witnessed the power we as individuals have when we take initiative.

When you were in high school or college did you ever witness a situation where someone wasn’t being well represented or treated fairly? If so, what did you do in that moment? What do you tell yourself?

This happened during junior high, but I had a computer class with a teacher who was really kind to a Jewish friend of mine. My friend was one of his favorite students. After the attacks on September 11th occurred, the teacher's entire attitude changed with my friend. I knew it was wrong, and I think it made everyone in class uncomfortable. But, I was scared for a while to say something. Finally, one day I asked why he kept picking on my friend, and I pointed out how he used to like him. Other students joined in and the teacher apologized. It didn't happen again after that.

When did you become passionate about pursuing a career that provided resources to help people? What lead you to starting your own companies?

I became painfully aware during my time as a caseworker that a lot of the families I worked with had very few resources at their disposal during the weekend, after hours, and after their time with the organization had passed. Technology for social good has long been an interest of mine, and this felt like the perfect opportunity to pursue my own creation. "The Collective" was initially intended to be a business venture, but it transformed into more of a social cause. Last year's travel bans affected the populations I could work with and were, I felt, a call for me to make the app's purpose bigger than a business venture.

Tell us about a rewarding moment you’ve experienced with a client that used your services?

A rewarding moment would be the time a Syrian client of mine told me he found a Halal food store on the app. When he went to visit, he discovered that they were looking for clerks and he applied. He thanked me because without the app, he may not have found the store and wouldn't have received a new job.

And what about a disappointing time? Can you tell us about that as well?

A disappointing moment would be the time a Burmese client shared the Burmese language no longer appeared correctly on the app. It was the hardest language to provide, and it took a lot of work to get add it on the app. But, I had to redo it. It goes to show that in the app world and even life, some things are never “complete.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to make an impact on the lives of others? Where and how can they start?

Listen deeply to the passion God has placed in your spirit and it will lead you to the impact. Don't be afraid to evolve with your passions because it can only lead to additional forms of impacting the lives of others. Start where you can with what you have. It doesn't matter how small it may feel. Any positive impact is a good thing, and, ultimately, it will always be a learning experience, enhancing your character.

Which of the Shepherds of Healing DEPTH words would you advise your 18-year old self to focus on? (Dedicated, Empathetic, Polished, Trustworthy, Humility)

Dedicated, for sure. Looking back, I wasn't dedicated to much of anything at 18. It felt like I had the rest of my life to focus on what I needed to do. I'd be a lot further in life had I taken dedication seriously then rather than now as an adult.

Finally, Derek, tell us how we can keep up with you.

Search "Apple Source Code" on YouTube for the clip of me (and my sister) presenting at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference! I also have a Twitter account that I've neglected, but I can be followed @the_cfr.

Derek Smith is a Dude with Depth!

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