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NaTakallam - Connecting Displaced Persons with Language learners around the world.

NaTakallam is a platform that connects displaced persons/refugees with language learners worldwide for online language practice.

Photo of Aline Sara

Written by

*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

This short video report properly shows the impact both psychologically and financially of NaTakallam on our main beneficiaries, Syrian refugees. It also shows the role of our work in the wider humanitarian sector, conveying the importance of distributing cash vs. aid to refugees. Finally, the video shows how NaTakallam helps language learners practice a language but also learn about life as a refugee, especially those coming from conflict zones.

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

NaTakallam connects displaced individuals (primarily Syrians) with Arabic learners for online language practice, giving the former access to an income while fostering intercultural understanding.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

NaTakallam, “we speak” in Arabic, gathers Arabic learners and refugees for online language practice.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

NaTakallam is a new idea that became a social venture. To date, some 60 displaced persons/refugees and over 1300 individuals in 80 countries have engaged in some 13,000 hours of NaTakallam sessions, through which displaced people have self-generated over $110,000.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

NaTakallam addresses the problem of being a displaced person without a job and/or sense of purpose, whether due to being barred from the local workforce, or struggling because of cultural/language barriers. With over 65 million displaced people today, tackling this problem has never been so urgent.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Over the next year, we will launch our fully automated online platform to enhance the user experience of our refugee conversation partners and users.We will then develop go-to-market plan for different customer segments, as well as develop a robust translation/interpretation service offering, beyond just the language practice. We will also professionally train and soon launch a full-on curriculum option to cater to beginner level language learners looking for a certified and credited course.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

Our three founding members, all dual citizens with origins from the Middle East, have a combined background in international affairs, human rights, econometrics, program management, design and conflict resolution. Our IT is led by a Syrian refugee in Lebanon. We have global partners helping us.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Business Development/Partnerships

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Get feedback from experts

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

Our current and future KPIs are: Number of displaced persons (conversation partners) hired Retention rate for conversation partners Number of female conversation partners hired Number of displaced persons making the minimum wage or better in their new location. Number of displaced persons that gain citizenship in country of resettlement Number of language learning clients Retention rates of students Numbers of hours sold Number of University partners Number of Organizational clients

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

The feedback we have received has given us insight into what the refugees/displaced persons value most through their experience with NaTakallam--global friendships, that are ranked higher than access to an income. We've also been able to understand instances where there has been miscommunications, which we are already working on improving.

Attached are three maps, one for our refugee/displaced persons, showing the impact both financially but also psycho-socially, through their work with NaTakallam. The second map is a sample of how a company/organization can benefit from using NaTakallam for its staff's language needs (learning a language, but also translation/interpretation needs). Finally, the student map is an example of how an individual who is learning Arabic can benefit and experience using NaTakallam to access native speakers to practice.

Explain your idea

We are facing the worse refugee crisis of our time. The idea of NaTakallam is grounded in the fact that hundreds of thousands of displaced people and refugees are highly educated individuals who have much to offer, yet they are frequently barred from access to the local workforce in their country of resettlement--notably for example, Syrians in neighboring countries. (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey..) NaTakallam changes this status quo by leveraging the internet economy to hire displaced persons (regardless of their status as an asylum seeker, refugee etc.) as online language partners/tutors and remote translators/interpreters, by capitalizing on their native language skills and the need for language learners worldwide to have access to affordable flexible language practice. NaTakallam is first and foremost addressing the problem of being a refugee/displaced person without a job and/or sense of purpose. Whether because they are barred from legal access to the local workforce, unable to find work due to a dearth of opportunities, or struggling because of cultural or language barriers, refugees and displaced individuals are at great risk of falling into depression, poverty, and desperation. Focusing for the time being mostly on Arabic speaking refugees, through the internet, NaTakallam recruits, trains and hires refugees and then connects them with Arabic students around the world for language practice. On the student end, NaTakallam fills in the gap in affordable, flexible practice of Arabic for students who do not have time, monetary resources, and/or have security concerns related to traveling to the Middle East. Being its practicality, NaTakallam provides its users a service which directly contributes to a cause, that of their partner’s livelihood, providing a win-win solution for both ends. Additionally, by sharing their language, culture and story, students and refugees develop a unique friendship and understanding that addresses the urgent need to break down negative stereotypes surrounding refugee discourse, another great challenge of our time.

Who Benefits?

NaTakallam provides a sustainable livelihood to refugees and displaced people regardless of their asylum status, location and local labor restrictions. Refugees earn an income and marketable skills to use in later years of adaption. NaTakallam employs both urban refugees and those trapped inside camps. While providing aid is critical, giving individuals a sense of purpose and job is sustainable and profound, and refugees go from being passive recipients to aid to engaged individuals. On the other end, students of Arabic benefit from a convenient source for learning formal or spoken Arabic, from anywhere in the world, at any time, and experience an enriching cultural exchange with someone from a completely different walk of life. Finally, because NaTakallam is primarily engaging young users from Western countries, the platform is fostering intercultural exchange and understanding that helps host countries better understand and support the influx of refugees we are seeing today.

How is your idea unique?

Refugee-related initiatives have been criticized for being unsustainable and inefficient, and the humanitarian sector today is overwhelmed by the crisis . Most NGOs focus on aid, NaTakallam upends the status quo by giving refugees a job through the web. Rather than passive recipients to aid, refugees generate their own income, even when they are not allowed to work locally. Connecting refugees to learners globally, NaTakallam’s uniqueness lies in its multi-dimensional impact—income generating but also psycho-socially benefiting the displaced while giving users an affordable, individually tailored language practice. We have received feedback from our conversation partners that being able to share their experience and culture is their greatest joy. So far, we have come across no platform that hires refugees/displaced person specifically for language teaching. Moreover, NaTakallam focuses on conversational Arabic, which is not typically taught in traditional Arabic classroom settings.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Tell us more about you

NaTakallam is a social enterprise. Our young growing team, has at its core, its three founding members, all dual citizens with origins from the Middle East, who combined have a background in international affairs, human rights, econometrics, program management, design and conflict resolution. Our core team is working full time on NaTakallam. Our web developer is himself a Syrian refugee in Lebanon. All together, we speak 8 languages. We have several other team members and volunteers, including key hubs in Paris, London beyond New York, which is our base, and our main NGO partner on the ground in the Middle East, in Beirut Lebanon, is Arc-en-Ciel which helps us disburse payments to the language partners(displaced Syrians) there. All in all, our team spans some 15 nationalities. At present, NaTakallam is establishing partnerships with universities’ Arabic/Middle East Departments across the US and Europe to include NaTakallam conversations as a complement to traditional classroom courses in the fields of Arabic, Middle Eastern studies and international affairs. Through university partnerships, NaTakallam can help shape individuals’ minds and willingness to get involved in alleviating the global crisis. In addition to language practice with their language partner, university students engage in a unique intercultural exchange that helps break negative stereotypes, bridge cultures, and change the narrative surrounding the refugee and migrant topic. The exchange also helps raise awareness. To date, NaTakallam has worked with a number of universities including George Washington, Swarthmore, Duke, Boston College, Northeastern, Tufts, Santa Clara University, and soon NYU, Science Po (Paris) and several others. NaTakallam has also established partnerships with the following organizations and institutions around the globe: • Arc-en-Ciel, a Lebanese apolitical and non-confessional non-profit assisting us with cash payments. • The Aspen Institute, an education and policy studies non-profit organization based in Washington, DC whose mission is to foster mission-based leadership on global critical issues. • The American Councils for International Education, a DC-based international nonprofit creating educational opportunities for individuals and institutions to succeed in increasingly interconnected world. • The International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian aid, relief and development NGO • Jusoor, an NGO of Syrian expatriates supporting the country’s development and helping Syrian youth • Re:Coded, a coding bootcamp for refugees and displaced youth in regions affected by crisis whose fellows are working as NaTakallam conversation partners to facilitate self-reliance. NaTakallam is also a member of TrustLaw, which offers NGOs and social entrepreneurs free legal assistance.

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered social enterprise.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Aline,

I look forward to seeing your response to the expert feedback. The deadline for responses is Friday 11:59 pm Pacific Time.

Are there any specific types of organisations or organisations in certain geographies that you would like to connect to?

Photo of Aline Sara

Dear Kate, good to hear from you! We've finally had some time to explore in more depth all the other fascinating projects on the Bridgebuilder platform. We've seen a few familiar faces, notably some doing work in the MENA region, which is especially exciting given our current focus at NaTakallam. With regards to areas of collaboration, we would definitely be interested in connecting with a few of these projects/organizations. In a first instance, organizations like the Synergos Institute (and its “Pioneers Program” which creates opportunities for Syrian refugees in Egyptian society) or Shaml (the coalition of Syrian CSOs) and the CVT project supporting survivors of torture (trauma) in Jordan, can be great partners to help identify, and refer to us displaced persons who are good candidate to become language partners on the NaTakallam platform. While we do have a few partners on the ground, they are mostly in Iraq and Lebanon, so collaborating with organizations in Egypt and Jordan is especially interesting to us.
It would also be interesting to connect with organizations like TechLab, which uses teacher training and mobile technology to transform teaching and learning in underserved rural school. This might be something that would work in settings with refugees. NaTakallam is always looking for interesting opportunities for collaboration with organizations to strengthen the training options for our conversation partners. Speaking more generally, any organizations that leverage technology and tools for online tutoring are interesting to us. We also naturally gravitate towards enterprises that strive to give work opportunities rather than just aid to displaced communities.

With regards to our users, anyone in the world who wants to sign up can use our services, however right now, NaTakallam is actively looking to partner with organizations that are universities, mostly in the US/UK/France, and soon high schools around the world, to integrate NaTakallam into their curriculum—whether for coursework related to language, but also for classes in the areas of history, geography, international affairs, political science and anthropology. We are also interested in providing our services of language learning, and translation and interpretation (which is much more in its nascent phase) to companies and NGOs who need staff fluent or knowledgeable of the Arabic language or need documents translated from English to Arabic or vice versa. Any type of language related opportunities that can be done remotely are ones that we aspire to give to the millions of highly qualified and displaced people in the world today. We look to big organizations like MSF, ICRC and Human Rights Watch, with the ultimate goal of having them cover language tuition for their staff. These organizations are all working in the humanitarian space, so why not have their language training provided by the very community they are seeking to help?

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Aline,

Thank you for your in-depth and detailed responses. I am tagging some of the organisations you mentioned here to see if they can see a connection between Natakallam and their work - Wisam and Syria CSOs Coalition Builder and Incubator Anne  with From the Midwest to the Middle East: A Regional Center for Trauma Rehabilitation and Training  and @DeletedUser  with Harnessing Social Entrepreneurship to Bridge Peace and Prosperity for Syrian Refugees living in Egypt due to their work with refugees

Photo of Kate Rushton

I am also tagging @Jenny who posted @Transforming Education Through Teacher Training and Mobile Technology

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Aline and Team!

We’re excited to share with you feedback and questions from the BridgeBuilder team and an external set of experts. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your idea. Your idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

One expert shared: “This is a good idea that restores dignity and needed resources to a refugee community! I would like to see it active globally and not just with users in the U.S.”

When thinking about desirability, feasibility and viability here’s what experts shared:
• There’s definitely potential, “having worked on on-line learning platforms in refugee camps there two challenges that might impact the feasibility and ability to scale 1) is there dedicated internet capacity? and 2) are there international banking facilities that reach into refugee camps?
• It would also be helpful to see your business plan that hits specifics around reach, feasibility, and the resources you’ll need and how you’ll acquire them?

When thinking about how your solution considers the end user experts shared:
There’s some demonstration for considering the end users needs in the program design. Would love to see how you concretely tie the needs of your community members to design features.

A idea to look into: Amy Stokes a former CNN hero has a similar project that links the US with S. Africa which has met a fair amount of success. Might be worth checking out as you begin to explore partnerships.

Thank you so much for sharing the important work you are doing!

In case you missed it, check out this Storytelling Toolkit for inspiration for crafting strong and compelling stories: Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - June 16 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

Have questions? Email us at

Looking forward to reading more!

Photo of Aline Sara

Thank you for the expert feedback!

Regarding the first expert comment asking to see NaTakallam active globally and not just with users in the US:

 US users are actually representative of only 47% of our total user base. Our platform is entirely global and in fact, one of its goals, is global interaction and exchange. As such, the remaining users are coming from 60 different countries, with the UK and France immediately following the US. We are building partners in mostly Western countries from where we see usership particularly fruitful as we are trying to bridge cultures and bridges, in an effort to change the present narrative of certain global leaders that is pushing to build walls. We are fostering language and cultural exchange and we see this is especially helpful in countries that are receiving many refugees and displaced people but are at times concerned with their arrival.

When thinking about desirability, feasibility and viability here’s what experts shared:
With regards to the experts' questions about 1) dedicated internet capacity? and 2) international banking facilities that reach into refugee camps?

When we hear the word refugee, we often think about camps. However, according to UNHCR, over 60 per cent of the world's 19.5 million refugees and 80 per cent of 34 million IDPs living in urban environments. In fact, urban refugees tend to benefit less from the NGOs’ support as they tend to be on their own, so in a certain sense, urban refugees and displaced persons can be even more vulnerable.
NaTakallam’s conversation partners are mostly urban, though we have a few individuals in informal settlements in Lebanon (where refugee camps are not legal and banned by the Lebanese government due to security concerns originating from the time of Lebanon’s civil war) as well as in camps in Erbil and Greece. With regards to internet access, we are living in their era of the “connected refugee” and research has shown, that in the case of displaced Syrians, 1 out of 2 have smartphones . Syria is also a country where there are between 75 and 87 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people, Canada’s CBC reports. Countless articles have reported on the importance to refugees today of being connected—at times as important as access to shelter and food given the smartphone and internet connection helps displaced people communicate with loved ones, and for those escaping to Europe, they typically leverage the technology to help trace their route. As NaTakallam continues to grow, we will seek collaboration with tech companies that can provide internet access and technologies that facilitate displaced persons’ access to a connection and the necessary devices too. We are in touch with several of them including HP, Skype, and Samsung though they are still in the preliminary conversations.

With regards to payments, NaTakallam uses online transfer mechanisms but also collaborates with NGO partners on the ground who disburse payments to the refugees and IDPs.

Over the past two weeks, NaTakallam has gathered over 100 feedback surveys on users’ experience (in addition to feedback we’ve had from before), where we are also collecting information on what users (the language learners) would like to see developed through NaTakallam in the future. This includes the opportunity to follow a structured curriculum which is an option we will pilot next fall. Some of our Syrian conversation partners have received a training that will enable them to teach the curriculum that is being taught at Cornell University. Users will thus be able to follow an ivy league certified curriculum option and even pass an exam and receive credit for their studies-all while supporting displaced people's livelihood.

Regarding our end users' experience:
Our biggest next step, for now, is launching our fully-fledged platform, that has the back end needed for us to partially automatize the processes of identifying the right language partner for a given language learner. To date, we’ve been doing everything entirely manually. Given our MVP is fully proven, we are now moving into the full-on creation of the platform.

Photo of Aline Sara

Several users on the language learning side have expressed their interest in having a better user experience, and our current work is in direct response to these community members’ needs . Our current users will also participate in the next 2-3 month beta phase of the revamped platform through which we will constantly assess satisfaction of our automated system for both the client (language learner ) and the displaced persons (the beneficiaries).
When it comes to displaced people, they are many to be already highly skilled, and in order to not loose such an incredible amount of human capital, we must provide the tools that leverage already existing talent, and we feel NaTakallam, which works with the middle class community of displaced people, is doing that. Conversation partners on our platform typically come from background in engineering, medicine, architecture, journalism, law, the arts and teaching their language and culture while they plan to resettle or continue their degrees is proving to be very precious to them.

Photo of Mohamad

This is a brilliant idea! I'm glad to see that there are still kind hearts out there that actually care!

Will this platform be strictly for Arabic learning only? Are you planning to expand your model and introduce different languages as well, since you have a wide reach?

Side note:
I come from a middle eastern background, knowing what refugees go through when they are displaced and have to leave their country and how hard it is to maintain a basic living standard.

Addressing the global refugee crisis is one of the main talking points in today's news, in addition, the notion of connecting refugees to learners globally could solve major problems in sustaining their living costs!
Since some countries are accepting refugees into their countries, local laws and rules are restricts refugees from working locally due to not having working rights, this could act as a vehicle in providing the necessary living costs!

Most societies has this misconception that refugees are uneducated and they won't hire them just because they are labelled as refugees, which shouldn't be the case. Most refugees who come from a middle eastern background are education driven, academic minded who always thrive to improve.

If there is any sort of assistance or contribution that you may need, I will be more than happy to oblige.

I hope this goes somewhere, I'm really looking forward to see the end result!

Photo of Aline Sara

Ahlan Mohamad! thanks for the positive feedback. :) We definitely do have plans of expanding to other languages and communities of displaced people (with 65million people forced from their homes globally, there is a lot of possibility to leverage their language skills to provide them with a rewarding income opportunity) but as a team of dual citizens with origins in the Middle East, we are especially focused on this area for now. Beyond the income and language learning, it really is bridging cultures, and we feel this is especially important with Middle Eastern/North African communities and users in countries from the West as there is so much misunderstanding and negative perception in the media and political spheres between both sides.
 We are definitely open to all sorts of help! We are currently reaching out to universities in the US, UK, France and elsewhere for partnerships and integrating NaTakallam as a complement to the traditional classroom setting. In case you know anyone, or in general, we are looking to get more participants signing up for sessions. We have applications from refugees on a daily basis and need to get the word out so more users sign up and thus support them with something as basic as access to an income and restored sense of dignity and purpose-- and as you said, it is impressive to see the level of education and how skilled many of them are. Thanks for your feedback!

Photo of Anne Evans

I love this idea! You mention, "NaTakallam provides a sustainable livelihood to refugees and displaced people regardless of their asylum status, location and local labor restrictions. Refugees earn an income and marketable skills to use in later years of adaption. NaTakallam employs both urban refugees and those trapped inside camps. While providing aid is critical, giving individuals a sense of purpose and job is sustainable and profound, and refugees go from being passive recipients to aid to engaged individuals." How are you working with organizations running refugee camps to deal with the challenges of sufficient access to broadband Internet? Our solution works anywhere in the world and we'd be happy to collaborate. Please see our submission:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Aline,

Would you tell me more about the training the refugees receive to be a conversation partner and will need for translation/interpretation services?

What background checks will you perform?

What is the goal for the three-year project? What are you targeting for the measures in 'How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?'

Photo of Aline Sara

Hi Kate!
 NaTakallam was originally conceived of as a conversation platform, leveraging the already existing talent and language skills of refugees, to support Arabic learners who want to practice speaking/interact with someone from the region while contributing to a cause--this is why refugees/displaced persons were originally meant to serve as “conversation partners,” rather than tutors. NaTakallam is keen on recognizing the already existing talent in the displaced community and ensuring we avoid a loss of  human capital with mass influx of people displaced by war. When they join NaTakallam, all language partners receive a basic training on how to use our platform, basic guidelines to ensure privacy, proper communication and interaction with staff and with users, as well as tips on how to keep the “conversation sessions” lively. Interestingly, as NaTakallam evolved, the refugees on our platform began to really perform the work of tutors, as dozens of users signed up looking for full on tutoring with no Arabic background at all, and some of the refugees are in fact, delivering full on teaching sessions online (they are either teachers or naturally have the skills). As a result, we are currently developing a more robust training for the teachers, as well as a certified Arabic curriculum option in partnership with an Ivy League university, to answer to needs of users no both ends.
Currently for those refugees hired as translators, we are hiring refugees who have experience and/or are certified translators/interpreters. With 11 million displaced Syrians, there are many who are already highly qualified but need to be connected to the right work opportunities. NaTakallam has been contacted by people who want such a service all while supporting refugees and this is why we've decided we are between both words and can serve as the connectors.

Our background checks are done in line with the US State Department's procedure.
Our most pressing goal, over the next few months, to ensure we are a sustainable business that can continue to grow and to help increasingly more displaced persons and refugees worldwide, is launching our online platform with its full back end developments. This platform is being built by our CTO who is himself a Syrian refugee in Lebanon. We have to date, been doing everything manually. Having a system that is semi-automated will be extremely important to scaling up and will also enable to focus more on recruitment of our language partners and supporting them with proper e-teaching tools all while continuing to get users on board, notably students in universities and high schools where NaTakallam can serve as a great complement to the traditional classroom setting. By the end of 2017, we hope to have 10 more university partnerships, and by 2018, 30-40. We also hope to fully develop the translation/interpretation offerings.
Between 2018-2019, we would like to begin expanding to other languages and displaced communities.
Key metrics of ours include the number of language partners working with NaTakallam on a monthly basis (EOY 2017: 100), the number of language learners (EOY 2017: 800), the number of university partners (EOY 2017: 20 total), and the income made by displaced persons per month (close to Lebanese minimum wage $400).

Photo of Lesa R. Walker MD, MPH

Aline What an interesting and innovative project! Since your feedback indicates that global friendships are valued even more than income, you might find PenPal Schools worth exploring. There might be some collaboration potential there. Young people could explore language differences and issues and learn from each other. Here is their website:

I am on the team for the "Compassion Games" project in the Bridgebuilder Challenge ( It would be great to connect with you to brainstorm about how the communication bridge you are establishing between refugees and language learners could also be used to engage these paired individuals in having conversations and taking action about issues pertaining to peace, prosperity, planet. Also, perhaps they could engage in a larger forum where they could have group discussions.

Photo of eldy wullur

Hi Aline,
Your idea is amazing and very unique. Language is very important as a means of communication and you are empowering refugees with very sweet. Of course they are very expert with mother tongue.

Photo of Aline Sara

Thank you Eldy!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Aline,

It is great to see you in the challenge.

I look forward to seeing your user journey for the students, beneficiary feedback. If you have any questions at all, please tag me using ‘@‘ and ‘Kate Rushton’.

How do you reach out to the refugees and learners?

Would you consider including a link to your website - and maybe even a video -

On average, how many hours are the refugees working? How much additional income is this (x hours x $10)?

What are your expansion plans? Have you established the link with the State Department?

In the future would the students be teaching other subjects?

Are there any specific types of organisations or organisations in certain geographies that you would like to connect with?

Photo of Aline Sara

Hi Kate! Great to hear from you. We've finally submitted our survey and answers to the questions, and included a more recent video. Regarding the income made by refugees, our goal is for them to be making Lebanon's minimum wage ( $450). For now, our average is around $250-300 but we've also been using a manual platform that has slowed things down--hopefully launching our full-on platform with a backend in the next 2 months . We're also looking to expand by diversifying our services (adding translation/interpretation) and in the long run other languages. Right now, we are focusing our partnerships on universities.

Photo of eldy wullur

Hello Aline,
Recognizing that all human beings are creatures of God, has the potential and talents are different from one another. Unifying the positive is to add value to the common good.
Thank goodness we did all of this in a positive effort.