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SPEAK promotes the emergence of inclusive communities where locals and migrants meet to share their culture and develop meaningful bonds.

Photo of Rita Brito e Faro
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SPEAK fights against the social exclusion of migrants and refugees caused by social barriers, discrimination, and anti-migrant rhetoric. SPEAK developed a web platform where people sign up to learn or to help others learn a language but the experience happens face to face, in groups, offline. While people learn with each other, they are breaking barriers and making new friends. From this simple service, SPEAK is fostering the creation of spaces where newcomers have the opportunity to share the value they bring and develop meaningful relationships with locals. The team also trains newcomers willing to set up SPEAK in their city, creating their own job. This growth model will allow SPEAK to create a global network of 100 inclusive cities by 2024.

What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Every week 3 million people move to a new city, and there are several reasons for a family or individual to be forced to leave their home. Whether for a better life or the urgency of a war scenario, the problem of integration arises in the challenges migrants and refugees find in their destination. Language barrier, lack of friends and family and bureaucratic processes are one side of the coin, while ethnic and religious discrimination is the other. SPEAK fights against the social exclusion of migrants and refugees caused by social barriers, discrimination, and anti-migrant rhetoric. SPEAK offers community-led language groups that meet once a week for 90-min sessions for 12 weeks. SPEAK follows an Online2Offline (O2O) model - members sign up on our web platform to learn or help others learn a language but the experience happens offline, face to face. SPEAK also offers community-organized events like language exchanges, city treasure hunts or cooking sessions. While people learn with each other, they are breaking barriers and creating meaningful relationships, creating a multicultural community based on equality where cultural heritage is cherished. Members often help each other with job offers or renting their first house in a new city thanks to the power of their SPEAK community. In this community-based solution both newcomers and locals participate actively in the solution. It places migrants and refugees as bridge builders and ambassadors for cultural dialogue in their communities, empowering newcomers to take action, as they are not only guests or receivers anymore, they are hosts and add value to the community. Last year we launched the ‘take SPEAK to your city’ program that makes it very easy to start the project in a new city. The team trains newcomers to become SPEAK founders in their own city, helping it become more inclusive. This social franchising model creates jobs and gives us scalability - SPEAK will be a global network of 100 inclusive cities by 2024

Geography of focus (500 characters)

SPEAK grows on a city level. It is now in 21 cities in 7 European countries - Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. SPEAK started in Portugal, so at the current scaling stage our focus is Europe. However, the solution that SPEAK offers is widely adaptable to different contexts. All processes are managed online, so it mainly requires that people of different cultures and backgrounds living in the same city take interest in integrating with one another.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

SPEAK is fostering the creation of spaces where newcomers have the opportunity to share the value they bring and develop meaningful relationships with locals as equals, not feeling they are disempowered receivers as in most integration initiatives. Having this bottom-up approach generates a feeling of self-worth, as beneficiaries feel responsible for their own transformation and integration process. Moreover, this builds stronger support networks and a greater sense of belonging throughout.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

SPEAK uses the need or willingness to learn a new language to bring people together and help to create an informal support network to anyone at risk of social isolation, in particular migrants and refugees. The creation of an informal support network unlocks many opportunities that contribute to greater social inclusion, which should be the first step of integrating someone in a new community. SPEAK network has created opportunities for newcomers to get informal recommendations and guidance regarding specific basic needs and integration challenges, like access to health, education, and housing. But it has also fostered new friendships and meaningful bonds among locals and newcomers, breaking prejudices and creating a sense of togetherness and belonging. In fact, in 2018, 73% of SPEAK participants reported having made at least 1 friend with SPEAK. The simple feeling of belonging fulfills the human needs of joy, hope, dignity, friendship (feeling loved), attention, and security.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

SPEAK’s theory of change is based on the field-tested hypothesis that the creation of opportunities for people to meet with a common objective in an informal environment, in which cultures are shared and appreciated, is one of the most powerful tools to foster greater social inclusion. The participation in SPEAK language groups and events contribute to the acquisition of the language, the creation of a support network and the increased knowledge about different cultures. In the medium term, these lead to a higher sense of belonging to the community, the valorization of the migrant community, and ultimately to the social inclusion of newcomers. Impact on the community is measured through surveys. Our last report shows that, by the end of 12 weeks with SPEAK, the participants’ sense of belonging in the community increased by 15% and language is 30% less of a barrier in the integration process. Furthermore, 73% of newcomers made friends through SPEAK, with 72% meeting at least monthly

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Hugo Menino Aguiar, co-founder of SPEAK, was born into a migrant family. He started to be aware of migration challenges when he found out that his great grandmother was expelled from her village due to her religious beliefs, and that his grandfather went clandestinely to France with the hope of providing better conditions for his family. Hugo himself has also experienced the challenges of living abroad to study and work, namely making friends in a completely new city where he didn’t know anyone. He also understood that those challenges would become even more severe in a situation of vulnerability as is the case of economic migrants or refugees. With the belief that an inclusive community is happier, richer, and safer, he decided he wanted to help those people.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Through the ‘take SPEAK to your city’ program, anyone can start a SPEAK chapter. Ideally, in a SPEAK city diversity is a reality, there are significant migrant flows and potential for overall business sustainability. SPEAK adopts a bottom-up approach that works only with the participation of its community - making it the most valuable resource. The program is entirely composed of members of the SPEAK community, having buddies (people who help others learn) and participants be interchangeable (buddies can become participants of other language groups, and vice versa). The role of a SPEAK founder is to mobilize people, bringing in more buddies and participants. The central team supports members of the community in each of its roles, but somehow in an invisible way. The fact that the team withdraws itself from the stage and presents SPEAK as a language learning meetup and event launching platform makes its users take ownership of the resulting language and culture sharing communities.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

SPEAK is effective because it works in such a way that participants are the leaders of their own transformation and integration process. They are given the opportunity to be the changemakers, being put on the center of the solution. The most important strength of the community is the lived experience of SPEAK founders, buddies and participants. An example is Khuloud - an inspirational young woman from Syria who came to Portugal due to the war. When she arrived, she did not speak the language and she did not have any friends. She worked really hard to learn it and even decided to do her masters in Portuguese. Khuloud fell in love with our mission because it was close to her heart and she is now a SPEAK Founder in Braga. With SPEAK, Khuloud became an inspiring mobilizer and was nominated one of the top personalities of 2018 in Portugal.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

At the moment, key partners include -The Portuguese government - ACM, the High Commissioner for Migrations, uses SPEAK as the mainstream solution to integrate migrants and refugees; -Ashoka, has been sharing contacts from their network in Europe, as Hugo was nominated Ashoka Fellow last year; -Erasmus Student Network - ESN Coimbra is starting SPEAK in the social franchising model; -Many communication and room partners that help to communicate SPEAK and the buddy program to its target audience (migrants, refugees, foreign students, locals) and/or provide underutilized spaces to host language groups and events in their facilities. We would like to partner with -The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), regarding the validation of SPEAK’s methodology, as well as the worldwide adoption and implementation of the product; -WeWork network, as an international room partner. WeWork would provide easy access to language groups to their residents and could be a mentor on how to grow a O2O business.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Early Adoption: We have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have proof of user uptake (i.e. 16% to 49% of the target population or 1,000 to 50,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Share Your World

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Share Your World is the social tech startup that manages the SPEAK project - the idea proposed for the challenge. It offers 2 core activities to its end-user: language groups and community-organized events. In the language groups, during the 12 weeks, participants learn a new language with the help of two buddies. The team facilitates online workshops, and prepares support materials to help buddies prepare the sessions. SPEAK offers not only a language learning experience, but an opportunity to meet new people, for a symbolic fee of 29 euros. Participants who cannot afford it have free access to SPEAK. Events are organized by the community but open to anyone and are for free. In the ‘take SPEAK to your city’ program, we offer full access to our technology and cross-sectorial training to anyone willing to set up SPEAK. The lived experience of newcomers is invaluable. They are the agents that should be empowered to foster the integration process of others, and that is what SPEAK does.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a For-Profit Startup or Startup Social Enterprise

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State


In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

1. What kind of tools and support does a migrant or refugee need in order to start their own business in a new country? 2. Who are the most trustworthy organizations or individuals in the eyes of a newly arrived person? 3. What can discourage a person to establish the first contact with locals?

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

Yes. We had the opportunity of speaking with our mentor, Mahmoud Rihawi. We had a very rich conversation and hope to maintain contact with him. Mahmoud shared his lived experience with us, including his journey, his struggles, his conquers, and how he identifies with SPEAK’s mission. The lessons we took from our call were the following:

1. The easiest and fastest way to learn a new language is to practice it with friends in our day-to-day. Mahmoud learned how to speak English with his British friends, and this validates SPEAK’s methodology. SPEAK brings people together in informal environments where they can practice the language through games and dynamics. People make new friends and get the chance to keep practicing outside of SPEAK.

2. Refugees have many struggles that go beyond language learning. Sometimes refugees need help getting a job by preparing a CV, getting a certificate or a reference letter. 

3. Showing visual track records of how SPEAK has been changing people’s lives is the easiest way of proving the feasibility and results of our idea.

Several interviews made to the SPEAK community allowed us to collect relevant information. We tried to interview people from diverse backgrounds and from different cities. The answers were analyzed, grouped in clusters, and the results are shown in the table attached.

Our expert also provided relevant information:

1. In order to start a business in a new country, it is important that migrants know the language and the local community well, as well as the actual rules and perspectives of the country.

2. Newcomers tend to feel more comfortable in environments that are somehow connected to their home country as well as faith-based organizations, people of the same age/backgrounds, and families.

3. The fear or lived experience of having been discriminated against can discourage a person from establishing contact with locals.

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

SPEAK is in 23 cities in 9 different countries - Belgium, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, USA, and Nigeria - and has already impacted more than 25K people representing 164 nationalities.

SPEAK’s mission is close to the heart of many people, including migrants and refugees, who have the passion and the desire to start SPEAK. The funding will help these entrepreneurs begin their journey with the “Take SPEAK to your city” program, giving us the opportunity to reach more people and transform more lives. This will allow SPEAK to be present in more cities where it’s needed and at the same time create jobs and empowering the community.

SPEAK is effective because it works in such a way that participants are the leaders of their own transformation and integration process. Potential BridgeBuilder funds would give the opportunity for 10 migrants or refugees to be the changemakers.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

A share of $ 200,000 for stipends, capacity-building programs, and central support will allow 10 migrants or refugees to start their own SPEAK chapter, helping their city become more inclusive and making sure that newcomers feel at home. BridgeBuilder funds together with community support will change the lives of an additional 5,000 people each year.

Other improvements were identified as a result of the feedback received, and these will be implemented regardless of potential funding. For instance, we are working on redesigning the methodology, including the language learning materials, the buddies’ and the ambassadors’ manuals.

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

The ‘take SPEAK to your city’ program is an opportunity to create jobs for refugees and we should develop its full potential. We want to make our social franchising model more efficient, improving performance on a city-level and attracting more founders. In the next 3 years, SPEAK needs to boost the ‘take SPEAK to your city’ program and make it accessible to anyone willing to set up SPEAK in their city. This includes:

- developing online learning tools (MOOC) to offer automated training and maximize growth potential;

- implementing a capacity-building program and providing stipends, with the aim of allowing refugees to dedicate full-time to starting SPEAK in their cities while receiving support from an expert;

- developing our platform as a Software as a Service. It has a large potential for efficiency gains regarding support and training to founders.

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

By 2024, SPEAK will be in 100 cities and will be impacting more than 40,000 lives yearly, by helping them feel more integrated in their new community. At the same time, the ‘take SPEAK to your city’ program will have given the opportunity to more than 100 newcomers to become social entrepreneurs, helping their city become more inclusive and creating their own job.

SPEAK’s impact is measured by a questionnaire at the end of the last session, in which participants can answer closed questions, give feedback and suggestions. We measure 3 outcomes that are presented in the attached image.

How do we identify the candidate founders that have the potential to implement SPEAK successfully, with the support of the central team? How can we monetize SPEAK in a way that it is aligned with social impact and self-sustainable on a city level? What must be managed by the central team so that SPEAK grows the global community while keeping its DNA?

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

The team is led by Hugo Menino Aguiar, CEO and Co-founder, Mariana Brilhante, CMO and Co-founder, and Pedro Tunes, COO.

Hugo was a Software Engineer at OutSystems and a Product Manager at Google, where he was awarded a Google Golden Award. Hugo left Google to create SPEAK. He is also a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum and an Ashoka Fellow. 

Mariana worked at IES-SBS powered by INSEAD, creating social innovation strategies; and was a Project Director for Oxford BG, having worked in 14 countries, 4 continents. She has an MBA from Nova-Catolica University, and she is a mentor at Yunus Social Business.

Pedro worked at IES-SBS and was Executive Director of AHEAD, where he managed educational programs for 2,000 people/year. He holds MSc in Social Policy and Development from LSE and in Management from Nova SBE.

The rest of the team complements the project needs with skills ranging from content creation, customer support, and product development.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

1. Refugees face many challenges that go beyond language learning, so tailored support is very important. It is difficult and inefficient to establish a response on a global level, so SPEAK founders have an important role in addressing problems on a local level. We are going to include this in the founders’ training.

2. We will identify recently arrived participants, and suggest that they connect with someone of their original country that is more experienced in the city. We will also do the same suggestion to experienced participants to maximize the probability of a connection between the two. Moreover, we will encourage locals that have been in contact with people from specific countries to contact recent newcomers from those countries.

3. We should work on language learning materials and on the level definition. We are working on redesigning the methodology, for instance by allowing the community to contribute with learning materials to our online platform.


Join the conversation:

Photo of geoffrey mosigisi

Hello SPEAK team,

I is great to read the business model. The problem well identified.As I am learning,I am shock but not much,that ,has been created ,I have understood every step that you have underscored. If you wish to answer me, I will appreciate. If somebody wants to launch the program in his/her country do you assist him or her in the process of networking or everything is upon himself or herself? What kind of status of refugees are you considering, whether poor or rich he/she has to learn the language of her /his host ,how do you deal with the means for those who don't afford,as it has been recorded above is as although you addressing to those who are capable ,therefore to be implemented in those countries that are well developed,I know some countries which of her people cannot able to afford. I know your organization is for-profit, but how can you fix, to fit those who are in poverty.

Photo of Rita Brito e Faro

Hello Geoffrey,

Thank you for your interest in SPEAK!

In response to your questions:
- Yes, we do assist our SPEAK founders in every step of the process of implementing the project in the new city, including the networking, training in sales, fundraising, establishing partnerships, local marketing, and so on;
- Anyone, either local, migrant or refugee, who is not capable of paying the ~29 euro fee gets in for free. We then do our B2G sales based on the scholarships offered - municipalities pay for beneficiaries who had access to SPEAK already. Also, 29 euros is an indicative price, as we usually adjust the fee charged to each country's price level.

I hope this answered your questions, but let me know you have any more doubts!

Kind regards,

Photo of geoffrey mosigisi

Greetings! SPEAK team,

Thanks for your response.
I am interested in this idea therefore I have one more question for you. How do you identify those who don't afford the services you offer, so that you may give them for free? Do you meet with them face to face? For example, I am refugee or migrant and i meet your services online but I am unable to pay ,how will you know me that truly I am not capable to request it for,because i don't have cash? I wish to know what you have put in place to deal with it.I read your idea, then I have remembered what the migrants ,they face with the local people in my country thanks for inspiring my thoughts.

Photo of Rita Brito e Faro

Hi Geoffrey,

When participants enroll in a language group, they have the option of applying for a scholarship and in this case, we ask them to fill in an online form where we evaluate their financial situation. However, it is the participants who self-assess their need for a financial scholarship because we do not leave anyone who fills in the form out. This is all handled in our web platform, so we do not require a face to face interview.

Happy to know that our idea has inspired you :)


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