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Regain Education: The power of education against inequity.

We help victims of forced displacement whose education was interrupted by war or human rights violations to access educational opportunities

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

More than 670,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States in the past decade. At least one-third of these are children, older students and young adults whose education was interrupted by forced displacement, war and persecution. They arrive in the U.S. with hopes and dreams of a future anchored by education, opportunity and stability. But they confront immense challenges related to transitioning to a new educational system, race and socioeconomic status — barriers that can prevent fulfilling their true potential. These students often have little understanding of inequality in the United State. As newcomers, they are unaware of educational opportunities and, ill-equipped to access them. Many, faced with economic and social pressures, drop out. As a result, entire communities are left behind, excluded from fully participating in the economy and society. This results in significant loss of human potential and robs communities of a vibrant source of new talent. We see education as the key that enables people to exercise their other rights, such as the right to life & health, allowing them to attain a decent standard of living and offer their very best to our communities. We are part of those communities and we are now reaching out to these individuals to help them regain the dream of getting an education and fulfilling their potential.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Our target beneficiaries are refugees and asylum seekers who have lived in the U.S not more than 7 years. We will begin our work with refugees in northern Chicago, communities that have historically welcomed big numbers of refugees and other newcomers from countries such as Burma, Bhutan, Somali, and South Sudan, among others. As we build our capacity to match the demand for educational assistance, we intend to creatively expand our services to other people on the move in major welcoming cities.

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)

Most newly arrived refugees have escaped extreme conflict and persecution and young refugees have big educational gaps along with other losses they have endured. Education is the best ticket to a better standard of living for them and their families. Our idea acts as a 2 way bridge between these youth and educators; newcomers and native-born Americans. In acquiring education, refugee youth will be able to build a better future for their families and contribute to America’s vibrancy and progress.

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

Newcomers arrive with hopes and enthusiasm for an American dream built on education but current political realities and declining resources are leaving refugee and immigrant families feeling more vulnerable than ever before. Refugee students and young adults, with interrupted education, face steep challenges in accessing educational opportunities. Many are ill-equipped to thrive in high school and others who enroll in college end up dropping out because of economic and social pressures. They lack access to mentors with backgrounds and experiences similar to theirs who can help them to navigate challenges of racism, poverty and inequity and inspire them to complete college. Many end up feeling stymied with no realistic chance to continue their education or to acquire a job that offers a decent standard of living. We see a world where everyone irrespective of where they live or come from has a fair shot at acquiring a decent education.

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

Schools and neighbors who receive people on the move in the community struggle to provide the support needed for these students to thrive. For example, we have heard from newcomers that they find the college application process, including writing personal statements particularly difficult and there is insufficient support both in and out-of-school. Add this to other realities of life such as economic disadvantage which newcomers are likely to face. Our program provides a support system built on lived experience. We support educational access through college & career planning, inspiring newcomer students to attend college, assistance with college application processes, sponsorships for trainings, mentorship, internships, apprenticeships and English language support etc. We intend to weave a consistent feedback loop into our programming that allows newcomer communities and neighbors to participate in the design and evaluation of our work.

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

The inspiration is both personal and professional. As a child, I grew up in a refugee camp and saw how educational loss can ruin an entire generation. The refugee community is my community, it's a part of my life, where I come from and why I’m inspired to make a difference. Professionally, in my years with Upwardly Global, I worked with hundreds of refugees and asylees helping them to find professional jobs. I also worked in Community outreach which broadened my understanding of the issues, roles of different service providers and needs within the refugee space. Both of these jobs helped me to develop skills as a connector and bridge builder. A large part of the successful outcomes we helped facilitate came from creating, building and sustaining relationships. I believe that if we work together, with partners and initiatives like the BridgeBuilder Challenge, we can defeat the injustice of war and displacement and create a society of shared opportunity for all.

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

We exist to end the injustice of educational loss in refugee and immigrant communities. To show the dynamics in these communities, we have used the above infochart to succinctly illustrate the dynamics at community level and how they trickle down to the individual level to negatively impact the lives of young people in refugee and immigrant communities. We also added a video taken during our community research for more context about the community and challenges young people forced to leave home are facing after resettlement in their new communities.

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

We are embedded in the communities we serve and put these communities at the center of our work. We collaborate with community leaders and families to identify individuals with the greatest need and help them regain the dream of getting an education. We continue to expand our network of partnerships with education service providers including high schools, community colleges and online training providers like Coursera, to make education accessible to refugees with interrupted education. We are developing a cross cultural communication program to equip teachers and educators with the knowledge and skills they need to sufficiently support refugee students to thrive. We also rely on a network of neighbors who volunteer their time to support newcomers in the community to transition and achieve their educational goals. There are not many organizations focussing particularly on this work so we are having to learn and iterate as we go.

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

We are partnering with community agencies for participant outreach and to co-deliver programs. These include public libraries, high schools, community colleges & online training programs. We are already in touch with ESL social workers who run an after-school program at Sullivan High, a local school with a student base that is 45% foreign born. Our goal is always to reach our target audience where they are. We have set up a working relationship with RefugeeOne, a leading refugee resettlement agency. They will cross-refer and co-locate services with us. While their youth program provides some educational assistance it doesn’t cater for young adults. Our program includes both youth and young adults whose education was interrupted or halted by forced displacement. Other stakeholders will also include peer mentors from well-established refugee communities and volunteer community ambassadors who will build bridges and neighborhood connections for newcomers.

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

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Regain Education

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

My life has inspired me to work to end the injustice of educational loss for young refugees and help them to build lives of dignity. I spent my early childhood in a refugee camp in Uganda. My first experience of education was unpleasant. There was only one classroom for the entire school. Hundreds of kids were crammed into a single room, all different ages, with a single female teacher whose voice barely carried past the first couple of rows. These were smart, vibrant kids who could have become doctors, teachers, engineers and community leaders. Unfortunately many did not go beyond this class - a generation robbed of a future. I was very lucky and enabled to succeed because of the sacrifices neighbors made on my behalf. But the conditions that rob millions of refugee children of the chance to get an education have not gone away. They are being left far behind. I’m inspired to use my experience to cause positive change for young refugees across the U.S and the world over.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are not yet a registered organization but plan to register in future

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Chicago, IL

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. Volunteers are key bridgebuilders between people on the move and host communities. How might we create a system of recruitment, retention & management of our volunteers? 2. Besides face-to-face community outreach in refugee & immigrant communities, how might we best utilize partnerships and digital platforms to scale our reach and impact? 3. Attaining sustainable funding streams with foundations & corporations are key to our long-term sustainability. How might we build a process for funder cultivation and retention backed by a clear value proposition which speaks to our key audience

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

We used all of the available resources included in the Improve Phase Tool-kit:

1. Utilized Community Research Guide to interview and synthesize what we learned from the people with whom we spoke.  These included refugees and their families;  educational institutions and community based organizations and volunteers. The main takeaways  were that: 

  • Refugees have varying educational and support needs depending on the age they are when they arrive in the U.S. and the level of educational disruption they have endured. 

  • Interviews with teachers validated the need for a cross-cultural communications program for high school and college educators. 

  • Refugee and immigrant-serving organizations are currently struggling to keep their doors open because of government funding cutbacks and a hostile political climate. This flagged for us the need to secure diversified funding from donors, corporations and foundations as well as government.

2. Met with mentor (Pavel) for  almost 2-hour video call to get feedback on the idea. He advised that the implementation plan needs to be fleshed out and that the website should include a link to a detailed form for volunteering (in progress).

3. Participated in the Kickoff webinar to learn more about next steps in the improve phase 

4. Utilized user experience map to elaborate and detail our program users’ experience

5. Utilized the Venture MadLib to clarify our program story and service offerings 

6. Solicited expert advice and incorporated this into program design 

7. We also prototyped a mentorship and career guidance session with a group of 5 refugee youth

8. Utilized Gantt chart for our key activities and timelines. 

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

BridgeBuilder funds would provide start up capital to engage the community, design and implement our project and hire staff. If necessary, we will also seek further funding from multiple sources over the 3 year project. To attract this support, we need to show sustained impact. BridgeBuilder seed funding enables us to create this impact.  

Today, refugee communities are greatly disturbed and traumatized by the political environment. Firstly, we need to overcome mistrust and fear and ground the work in the community. We will do this by engaging broad community participation. We will utilize human-centered design to conduct 4 community workshops where youth, parents, educators and neighbors will co-design and refine the program. Drawing from these workshops, we will launch the  community ambassadors pilot, recruit peer refugee mentors and start our Equity in Education programs with a group of 30 refugees and 100 educators  in North Chicago. 

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

Funds will support the community design workshops, launch of our Equity in Education programs for refugees and educators,  recruitment and training of peer mentors and community ambassadors and  organizational staffing (see attached key steps and project budget).

Refugee educational services  will provide career planning and  college support. This will include help with college applications, financial aid  and scholarships and with English language learning. Peer Mentors will work with students to build their social capital, overcome economic barriers and navigate issues of racism and inequity. 

Skilled multicultural facilitators will run workshops for  educators to familiarize them with the challenges facing refugees from diverse cultural/ethnic/racial backgrounds and ways to provide effective support. Community ambassadors will build bridges between refugees and local communities.

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

Please see attached Gantt chart and program budget. You can increase their size by clicking arrow at top right. 

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)

Impact: We will create major shifts in academic attainment and social belonging. Using a human-centered design approach, we will also work to change the mindsets and cross-cultural communication skills of educators by equipping them with resources to effectively work with refugee students.

Measurement:  We will measure how the program contributes to academic success and social belonging. Metrics may include  graduation rates, college enrollment and degree attainment as well as survey responses about social acceptance and belonging. We will also survey educators about changes in mindset/behaviors when tutoring refugee students.

QUESTION: In research, we have learnt that there is no “one size fits all” approach to the communities we serve. How can we best capture and utilize lessons learned to tailor our services and create a roadmap to expand  our work to 3 more geographies by 2025. 

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)

We envisage an initial team with 3 part time staff members supplemented by advisory board support 


Executive Director: Abel Mucyo: Providing strategic leadership, team management and program oversight with additional responsibilities for fundraising and partnership development. 

A part-time community ambassador & refugee services program manager to launch and deliver services to 180 refugees from 2020-2022 and to work with peer mentors

A part-time educators program manager to launch program and work with 500 educators from 2020-2022.  

Advisory board Volunteer Support

Fundraising and Development: Anne Kirwan

Volunteer Program Design & corporate engagement: Bijan Yaminafshar

Design Lead: Gianni Sappathy

Marketing & Communications: Elise Parker

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

Expert feedback and advice on attracting and retaining volunteers was included in our 3 year detailed growth plan. Also will refine programs based on impact/data and explore model learnings and expansion potential. 

Mentor advised that we create a clear implementation plan and add a volunteering form link to website. We have developed a 3 year timeline that details program planning and growth, budget and staffing.

Outreach to community members or stakeholders: Carried out a workshop with refugee youth, consulted with teachers, ethnic organizations and refugee-serving agencies. Used advisory board and professional network for thought partnership. (See New Learnings Chart).

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Team (4)

Abel's profile
Madeline's profile
Madeline Holland

Role added on team:

"I like the your idea of building sustainable livelihoods for refugee communities and I see areas of potential collaboration between what we around access to education & skills development with your work on access to jobs opportunities."

Sarah's profile
Sarah Story

Role added on team:

"I like the fact that your project meets these people where they are (at least physically). I believe there are real opportunities for co-learning between our both projects."

Chau's profile
Chau Tang Duncan

Role added on team:

"Amazing work on financial inclusion for refugee communities. Interested in discussing potential synergies between your work and ours around livelihoods for people who have been forced to leave home."


Join the conversation:

Photo of Thais Groenen

Hi Abel,

This is an incredible project and the impact that it could have is tremendous and far-reaching. As an immigrant myself, I certainly believe that this proposal could address many of the needs of your audience and could forever change their lives. These educational resources are very well thought-out and you have clearly considered your stakeholders. Given the times which we are in, this proposal is even more important.

While I am not an expert in this field, I think you bring up some very interesting questions in how to grow this project. Regarding your second question, I believe it would be beneficial to partner with organizations focusing on similar causes for refugees. These organizations may have existing stakeholders which could increase awareness of Regain Education and provide you with other opportunities to learn and grow.

I wish you the best of luck with your endeavors.

Photo of Abel Mucyo

Thais Groenen Thank you for your comments and suggestions. We will definitel collaborate with several other partners in the field, we believe it's the best way we can make a larger impact. Let us know if you'd like to stay informed about our progress, we are happy to keep you posted!

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