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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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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?


Join the conversation:

Photo of Souad Nanaa

Congratulation Rita Brito e Faro for being a shortlisted.
Awesome project! Speak fights against the social exclusion of migrant and refugees caused by social barriers discrimination. We share same challenge, how to improve the social/cultural integration of refugees & immigrants in the host country.
Speak is in 21 cities in European countries, I’ve noticed that you are yet existed in France. Maybe we could collaborate together about on/off platform of language teaching, we teach Specialized French language about the art and culture for our participants in the tailored training program with museums.

All the best in the improve phase,

Souad Nanaa

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