OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Language Beyond Borders

Empowering displaced people through language and soft skills, enabling them to unlock opportunities, rebuild their lives and thrive.

Photo of Mabel Pr
7 5

Written by

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

Nowadays, there are more than 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, and less than 1% are resettled. Once their basic needs are covered, displaced people are in need of vital skills to rebuild their lives. Lack of language proficiency is one of the main barriers to access education, employment, and integrate into their new communities. For those lucky enough to be resettled, often the government provision of language tuition is minimal (in the case of the UK it has been cut by 60% in the last decade). Those who are not resettled might live in areas with high unemployment rates (over 50% in Gaza at 2018, according to the World Bank) and with limited access to educational opportunities. Speaking English enables them to integrate or make a living working remotely. We meet asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced people, of any gender and religion, where they are. They can be waiting to be resettled in third countries, trying to make their way once they are in their definitive host countries, or they can be internally displaced looking for educational and employment opportunities. Language Beyond Borders aims to empower displaced people through language, soft and intercultural communication skills enabling them to access educational and employment opportunities, to rebuild their lives and thrive. In parallel, we aim to bridge cultural differences with the host and international communities, and to foster understanding and tolerance, de-polarising our divided world. We deliver online live classes provided by qualified language teachers, tailored to displaced people’s needs and goals, and using the technology that suits them best. The classes are a two-way learning journey. While displaced people are learning the language and the western code of conducts, the teachers discover refugees’ context, reality, and cultures. We accompany people experiencing displacement along their journey, from places of first refuge to newly adopted homes.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We are global. We aim to help regardless of location and have a reach as deep as possible. Participants can live anywhere as long as they have access to a device and internet connection. We put technology to serve those who need it the most, spreading knowledge, empowerment, and solidarity. Most of our teachers live in Europe, and our learners, in the Middle East (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Afghanistan) since according toUNHCR, around half of refugees come from Middle Eastern countries.

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)

Participants connect at a human level. Students not only learn the language, but also the new codes of conduct, soft skills and intercultural communication needed to rebuild their lives and thrive. Teachers learn about displaced people’s context and reality, cultures, hopes, and dreams. This intercultural exchange goes beyond the screen, bridging cultural differences and fostering compassion, tolerance, understanding and hope, contributing to de-polarising our divided world.

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

Our programmes are based on live classes which bring displaced people connection with other human beings, spark joy (classes are a safe space and a distraction from their daily life), create hope (regaining a sense of purpose), restore dignity (by receiving high-quality classes with professional teachers). In turn, individuals from host and international communities find a channel and feel empowered to give a helping hand from their very homes, integrating displaced people’s realities into theirs. We work towards achieving SDG4 (Quality Education), SDG8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG10 (Reduced Inequalities). Through English language acquisition, displaced people unlock world-class educational and employment opportunities. In the case of Palestinian students living in Gaza and the West Bank, their achievement working remotely opens up a path which others can follow, increasing the professional and economic opportunities of Palestinian society.

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

Asylum seekers waiting to be granted asylum in third countries will regain certain control over their lives, a sense of purpose and a goal to work towards. Their stress levels will decrease and their confidence and hope rise. Learning the language of their future host country enables them to have a head start in life when arriving. Refugees living in their new host country frequently face barriers to access regular language classes. Many are in long waiting lists (sometimes up to 3 years like in the UK), women usually need to look after their children, some are trapped in day jobs, live in remote locations or are disabled. Online live language classes will adapt to all these realities and give a way out to success. Internally displaced people as Palestinians living in Gaza suffer from high rates of unemployment, learning English as the international language or lingua franca, soft skills and intercultural communication enables them to make a living remotely and thrive.

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

Language Beyond Borders was created in December 2017 by immigrant and project manager Mabel Prieto. She learnt to speak English as an adult and faced barriers to integration due to her lack of language ability. In 2016, she volunteered in the so-called refugee crisis in Greece, where she saw that the refugees able to communicate with aid workers, volunteers and the host community got more help, while the rest were isolated. Displaced people could learn the language while waiting to be granted asylum but there was a shortage of language teachers. In December 2017, an English language teacher, who had been teaching successfully to refugees over their mobiles, got in touch with her. She had a large social network of like-minded teachers and was looking for someone able to organise more language classes. Mabel saw the chance to support displaced people while empowering volunteers to act from their homes. This is how everything started.

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

We work with resettled refugees trying to integrate into their new communities, asylum seekers in third countries waiting to travel to their definite host destinations and internally displaced people striving to make a living online. Despite what might be seen as a very varied target group, our work focuses on giving them one vital tool they need: the language to unlock the opportunities they look for. Our teachers support our students in their journey, learning with them from their resilience and determination and broadening their perspective about the world. Our worldwide community and project are about hope. The hope displaced people and the host and international communities regain when there is a collaboration towards enabling people to have better lives and closing the gap between worlds that seem polarised.

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

We aim to create a path for displaced people to regain control of their lives and enable them to unlock their full potential while supporting host and international communities to channel their solidarity and empower them to welcome newcomers. (1) We deeply understand displaced people’s needs. We do so by partnering with organisations on the ground, listening to them and displaced people themselves. We co-create and co-implement our programs with them, learn and adapt. (2) Quality teaching component. We select qualified teachers and train them in the needs of our learners, supporting them with resources they can draw on. (3) Ongoing learning component. While the classes run, we support teachers and students with online training and follows-ups, monitor their interaction and learn by getting feedback. (4) Global/no geographical boundaries/accessibility component. Everyone who is eligible can access these courses, no matter where they are.

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

We collaborate with partners to reach students, support our programs and, if possible, provide adequate venues with internet connection. We currently work with a strong network of organisations and groups such as (1) Gaza Sky Geeks (a program of Mercy Corps) that works to enable its community members to earn income online whilst developing Palestine into an internationally competitive tech ecosystem; (2) Refugee Action and Refuaid, organisations supporting refugees in the UK to access educational and employment opportunities; and (3) “Hand-to-Hand. Supporting Newcomers” a Canadian Civil Society group that sponsors refugees privately and welcomes them into the Toronto community. We aim to work with UNHCR to reach organisations that will be a good match for us, such as IOM, that has cultural orientation programmes prior to refugees’ departure to their host countries where a language programme would be a perfect fit. Through talks with UNHCR we know that these programmes are needed.

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

Amal Learning (transitioning to Language Beyond Borders)

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

Language Beyond Borders is a nonprofit organisation that draws on technology, qualified language professionals and strategic partnerships to empower displaced people worldwide to regain control of their lives through free, tailor-made, live high-quality language, soft skills and intercultural communication skills programmes. Our organisation started operations in December 2017 with a small group of 10 teachers in Europe and 6 students living in the Middle East. In less than a year and a half, we grew to a network of 100 teachers and 60 students spread across all continents.. We have the experience and expertise to run these programmes. Our team is comprised of qualified and experienced people from different backgrounds in language teaching, social policy, e-learning, project management and communication. Our partners on the ground are a key part of the success of our programmes, helping us create and implement them.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

We are a Spanish registered charity, however, we do not have offices there. We operate mainly in the Middle East and Europe.

Organization Headquarters: City / State



Join the conversation:

Photo of Uchenna Okafor

Hello Mabel PrEmpowering, indeed a brilliant idea. But how can displaced disabled people through language and soft skills unlock opportunities to rebuild their lives and thrive with others in a world where discrimination against them is almost a generally accepted norm? The extreme poverty, illiteracy, homelessness, social rejection, street begging, lack of human dignity and access to opportunities trailing disabled persons seem global conspiracy against this most vulnerable community of all times. Now, how may you include them in this design without any modicum of discrimination?

Photo of Mabel Pr

Hi Uchenna, thanks for the question. To start with, Language Beyond Borders is testing its programmes with different groups of displaced people, each group has different needs and they are in a limited range of locations, depending on our partners. We are collecting and analysing data on impact, checking what works best for who. Once we’ve learnt the groups that can benefit most and build a sustainable base, we aim to expand, including more diverse groups.

View all comments