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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

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*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

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