Featured story by: Tom White

According to The UN Refugee Agency, there is a huge shortage of help to provide the more than 110 million forcibly displaced individuals worldwide with food, shelter, employment and other social services. Not all refugees are able to adequately access supports to meet their needs, and large organizations may not be able to provide personalized help due to the sheer volume of work required. Many refugees, living in a new land and unfamiliar culture, may lack the resources or knowledge of where to seek help, further complicating the issue.

Paula Schwarz (a.k.a. Paula Perla) has witnessed these issues—and more—on her home island of Samos, Greece.

Paula Schwarz, founder of Startup Boat and Cosmopolis, with her husband and their two children

Olga Gubko

Schwarz, who was born into a wealthy German family, is part Greek (on her mother’s side). She married a Peruvian-American software engineer, resulting in their children having four nationalities: German, Greek, Peruvian and American. Schwarz and her family split their time between San Francisco and Greece, due to her work with the Greek refugee crisis. She also spends a lot of time in Vienna, working with the UN office there. 

Schwarz worked as an investment manager before joining the NGO and start-up worlds. She participated in the Venture Bus initiative in Africa and founded the World Datanomic Forum, with the goal of organizing resources based on data showing where they are most needed worldwide. She also sat on the German political party CDU’s economic council. In 2015, she founded Startup Boat, a humanitarian start-up incubator. Her work has been recognized by major media and business entities worldwide; she was named by Capital Magazine to its 40 Under 40 list twice, by Forbes to its 30 Under 30 list and by the World Economic Forum as a Global Shaper.

To help alleviate the refugee crisis in Greece, and in other areas worldwide, Schwarz founded Cosmopolis, a digital platform that brings together refugee help seekers and generous individuals who would like to assist them, with the goal of uplifting, supporting and transforming lives.

The Cosmopolis platform, which is a product of Startup Boat, matches help seekers with helpers using a proprietary algorithm. By creating personalized profiles on Cosmopolis, members can showcase their skills and experience. These profiles help foster connections between help seekers and helpers, based on their shared interests, to cover the needs of the help seekers and link them to potential employers.

According to Schwarz, members can post their needs on the Cosmopolis platform; then people who want to help can see their needs and help fulfill them. Once a person has had four or five help requests answered for them, the Cosmopolis team looks at their profile and determines whether they are ready for a job placement. Cosmopolis uses a predictive index, which helps determine the person’s qualities and abilities, to find the most suitable employment opportunities for them.

Schwarz says that Cosmopolis is reaching out to partners, such as intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, women’s associations and corporations, to join the platform, allowing them to closely see the needs of people on the ground and tailor their support in ways that fulfill these people’s needs as efficiently as possible.

Cosmopolis is also preparing for its first offline events, known as “speed helping sessions.” These will bring helpers (or their representatives) and help seekers together and quickly match them (like a speed dating event).

“Conflicts around the world have led to an astounding number of refugees fleeing terrible economic and social conditions in search of a better life,” says Schwarz. “However, getting into a new country is just the first step of their extremely difficult journey, and they face multiple hardships, including a lack of food or employment. Having seen the camps in my home in Greece and been an immigrant myself, I founded Startup Boat and the Cosmopolis platform to help refugees integrate into their new home countries [more easily]. By allowing help seekers to show what they can do and helpers to extend what they can, we believe we can help save lives.”


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