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Innovating Across Boundaries

A virtual exchange program between Syrian refugee students and peers in the US offering collaborative robotics and coding courses

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

Karam Foundation works with Syrian refugees in Turkey at our Karam Houses - innovation community centers located in the border town of Reyhanli, Turkey as well as in Istanbul. The majority of Syrian refugee students at Karam House have not regularly attended school since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. These students have not only missed out on an essential part of growing up and expanding academic skills, but have also experienced the trauma of war and displacement, deterring the development of essential social skills. This program offers students the opportunity to learn technological skills and build strong bonds with their peers in the US. Additionally, the inclusion of Turkish youth in the program at Karam House contributes to decreasing social tension between refugee and host communities. While teaching essential technology skills, the program will also crete a space whereby communities can come together encouraging Syrian refugee, Turkish, and American students to learn from one another, as well as build a mutual cultural awareness that extends far e. Although classes will be taught separately, they will be focusing on the same lessons, and a large emphasis will be faced on frequent online exchanges, such as virtual group assignments and bi-weekly video calls. The curriculum for this program has been carefully planned and orchestrated by a team of experts at both institutions, ensuring that they meet the needs of all students. This program will provide an equal opportunity for girls and boys to acquire essential robotics and coding skills, amongst a larger portfolio of globally sought after skills primarily related to technology. As the program is designed on a project-learning basis, each semester will vary, exposing the students to different topics and themes. Each studio or project challenge will pose a problem for which students will brainstorm dozens of solutions until one is executed using newly acquired skills, techniques, and methodologies.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The virtual exchange is offered to students at both Karam Houses in Turkey (in Reyhanli and Istanbul). The majority of students at Karam House are Syrian refugees, and some are Turkish teenagers, ages 14-18; enrollment is approximately 50% female. By working with Syrian refugees in Turkey, we are removing barriers in their new communities, and giving them the tools they need to build a better future - both tangible engineering and technology skills, and cross-cultural competencies.

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)

The program builds bridges between Syrian refugee students and their Turkish peers as they jointly participate in the exchange with peers in the US. Students develop a closer understanding of each other’s circumstances and challenges. The curriculum uses “design-based” thinking and thus is not only about the exchange of culture and ideas but a collaborative effort on solving social problems in their community, encouraging participants to become positive change-makers in their societies.

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

We believe that education is the pathway to the future for youth. This program gives Syrian refugees the opportunity to not only access education, but access innovative education - a chance to acquire robotics and coding skills, amongst a larger portfolio of globally sought-after technological skills. We believe that it is important to give Syrian refugee students unique opportunities that they may not otherwise be able to access, and that set them up for a future of success, whether that involves higher education or employment with dignity. Through empowering youth, we build the leaders of the future, developing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Students are given the unique opportunity to connect with peers with incredibly different backgrounds and stories. Not only do they exchange knowledge directly related to the curriculum, but they share experiences that are radically different from their own.

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

We believe that this program will improve the technological skills of Syrian refugee youth (thus increasing their future potential) as well as increase cultural awareness and collaboration across borders. Syrian, Turkish, and American youth will experience skills development in robotics and coding. We will be able to measure change through program attendance and assignment records, as well as measure student improvement in skills (through assessments and review of final projects). Additionally, Syrian, Turkish, and American youth will experience increased cultural awareness and collaboration, which we can measure through student partnerships (assignment records) as well as qualitative assessments on intercultural awareness through focus groups.

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

Karam Foundation opened our first Karam House in 2017 (in Reyhanli) and our second in 2018 (in Istanbul). We are proud to be offering innovative programming to Syrian refugee youth in Turkey, and working closely with the community has always been our focus in developing new programs. We have already conducted virtual exchanges between students in the US and students in Turkey for over 18 months and witnessed first-hand the success it has had. Syrian refugee students are able to learn critical skills rooted in STEM, as well as build bonds with peers in the US. Additionally, they are able to build connections with Turkish youth in their community ,increasing cohesion with their new host community. The majority of Karam Foundation’s staff in Turkey are Syrian refugees themselves, increasing our connection with the community and our ability to respond and adapt to changing refugee needs, as well as learn from their priorities and contexts.

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

As mentioned above, Karam Foundation serves Syrian refugee youth in Istanbul and Reyhanli, Turkey. In both locations, we offer innovative education workshops along with other programming to Syrian refugee families. This virtual exchange is offered to students aged 14-18, including some Turkish students. As the majority of students at Karam House are Syrian refugees, many have had their journey towards education severely disrupted or delayed. These students have not only missed out on essential parts of educational development but have also experienced the trauma of war and displacement, further demanding the need for holistic programming addressing their psychosocial needs. This program offers students the opportunity to learn critical skills rooted in STEM, as well as build bonds with peers in the US or in their Turkish host communities.

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

As an organization, Karam has assembled a team of highly qualified individuals. How have we done this? By hiring refugees and experts in the community. The team members that run our programs are Syrian refugees themselves, and therefore are best equipped to mentor the teens along the pathway of leadership. In this way, our work is implemented completely with the refugee community. We recognize that Syrian refugees understand their problems and solutions better than anyone and are proud to have Syrian refugee professionals deliver these programs, as they are best able to understand the needs and context of the community. Our mentors that lead the virtual exchange workshops are thus best equipped to mentor the teens along their educational journey.

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

The curriculum at Karam House and fore the virtual exchange is co-developed by NuVu in Cambridge, MA. NuVu’s pedagogy is based on the architectural studio model and geared around multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects, providing an innovation-focused experience for students. Karam has created a customized experience for Syrian refugee youth, complete with language, cultural, and psychosocial considerations in partnership with NuVu. Additionally, NuVu schools in the US serve as our partner schools in the virtual exchange, and their American students benefit from this program as well. The Steven’s Initiative served a vital role in supporting this project from the beginning, and they will continue to partner with us through the end of this year.

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

Karam Foundation

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

Karam Foundation is a nonprofit organization focused on alleviating the suffering of Syrian children and families - both inside the country and as refugees in neighboring countries. Karam’s mission is to build a better future for Syria. We develop Innovative Education programs for Syrian refugee youth, distribute Smart Aid to Syrian families, and fund Sustainable Development projects initiated by Syrians for Syrians. Our innovative educational programs, active in Turkey, Syria, and Jordan, engage and inspire young minds, heal the trauma of war, and cultivate dreams of bright confident futures for displaced Syrian youth. We have been running a virtual exchange since January of 2018, and already reached over 300 participants. The curriculum was developed by a team of experts, and has been tested through numerous exchanges.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State

Lake Forest, IL


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Photo of Zulfiqar Deo

Lainey Schmidt  Thanks for sharing this. I was wondering how different your circulalum is to the courses available on . Just curious?

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