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LEAD with EMPATHY: globally interconnected, refugee-led leadership development program

LEAD with EMPATHY, a peer-facilitated program, inspires and guides refugees to identify challenges and implement community-based solutions.

Photo of iACT
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

We believe that if we offer the combination of human rights education, concrete community organizing, leadership skill development, access to global peers and experts, and the opportunity to identify, implement, and test their solutions, refugee youth will become global citizens who are empowered to address global goals in their community.

The LEAD with EMPATHY curriculum and training was developed in partnership with refugees in eastern Chad as a solution to address inequalities in decision-making power in their community. The curriculum is rooted in empathy and nonviolent communication and is designed to provide information, tools, and guidance for individual and collective leadership development. Each lesson begins with a mindfulness exercise which serves to ensure all participants feel mentally and emotionally “in the moment,” and sets a peaceful and calm atmosphere. Each of the thirty lessons allows for youth to dive into each topic, practice and adapt the learnings to their daily life and community, and reflect. The curriculum begins with understanding empathy and nonviolent communication before defining various leadership styles and moving into goal setting, facilitation skills, human rights (Convention on the Rights of the Child, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), gender equality, peacebuilding, empowerment, and community organizing. The curriculum culminates with a group action project that guides participants in identifying a problem and implementing a solution in their community. While working on this curriculum together locally, we will also connect the refugee facilitator across locations to foster an interconnected community working together to ensure a more peaceful world. Perhaps most importantly, we will honor the resulting ideas and solutions of youth who complete LEAD with EMPATHY with financial and expert technical support.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Currently, there are 22.5 million refugees worldwide. As refugees, these men, women, and youth lack decision-making power and agency over resources. The inequality springs from a spectrum of causes, including traditional social habits, economic status, displacement, and, perhaps most seriously, the loss of power within the top-down humanitarian structure. In this next iteration, our beneficiaries include youth under age 30:
- Refugees from Darfur, Sudan, representing various tribes living in refugee camps in the remote area of eastern Chad. Despite ongoing challenges and critical gaps in services, UNHCR’s 2018 budget was only funded at 13%.
- Refugees from the Central African Republic living in integrated refugee sites in eastern Cameroon.
- A combination of Syrian and northern African refugees in Thessaloniki, Greece, living in the urban city center and who were recently relocated by the government from suburban refugee camps.
- Resettled female refugees in southern California.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

iACT has on-the-ground experience and evidence-based results from facilitating refugee-led programs that empower refugees and increase their agency and voice, including the first iteration of this curriculum. We do not leave U.S.-based staff in countries where we work; rather, we employ refugees to manage programs and partner with established humanitarian organizations to leverage resources. iACT already has refugee employees in each of the targeted African communities requesting leadership development curricula, and a volunteer team member willing to facilitate a U.S.-based participant group. iACT is uniquely positioned to quickly hire refugee facilitators in order to offer these communities the opportunity to see themselves as part of the larger world, engage in a global community working towards a cooperative and planet, and implement solutions that restore dignity, foster peace, and create a better future for their community and the world.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Since 2005, iACT has facilitated refugee-led education, sports, and human rights programs that build resilience and cultivate recovery in refugee camps with a focus of filling a gap in humanitarian response and in improving the way we create and implement programs with refugee populations.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Inspiration sprang from conversations with Darfuri refugee women trained and employed to lead our early childhood education program in eastern Chad. The women were struggling to speak at camp meetings and lacked the confidence and tools to make decisions in the face of opposition and traditional gender/social roles. Hearing this, we went to the drawing board and asked, “How might we empower refugee women to feel more confident and effective as leaders of the program and in the community?”

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

As crises continue and resources become scarcer, refugees are at the forefront of where peace, prosperity, and planet intersect. Sudan, CAR, and Burundi are all part of the top 10 countries of origin for refugees worldwide and are considered least developed countries. According to the World Bank, conflicts “drive 80% of all humanitarian needs, while they reduce gross domestic product (GDP) growth by two percentage points per year, on average.” Peace is threatened by ongoing cycles of violence endemic to displaced communities: Darfuri refugees have been displaced since genocide began in Sudan in 2003; Central Africans in Cameroon came in waves in 2004/05 and 2012; and Burundi refugees in Tanzania have experienced violence just a decade apart. According to the UN Refugee Agency, developing regions hosted 84% of the world’s refugees in 2016. Combined with the lack of agency and decision-making power afforded refugees, prosperity is threatened by the lack of opportunity in host nations.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

iACT works directly with refugees and establishes dynamic partnerships in each of the four communities we propose for this project. In Chad and Cameroon, iACT works in partnership with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), and in Tanzania with PLAN International (PLAN). Being registered NGOs in each country, JRS and PLAN provide in-country logistics and facilitation of iACT projects. Through a local volunteer team member in southern CA, iACT will work with a diverse group of refugee youth recently resettled and connected through the Islamic Center of Hawthorne’s women’s committee. In addition to the LEAD with EMPATHY pilot, iACT facilitates Little Ripples, a refugee-led early childhood education and development program, and the refugee-led, gender equality-focused Refugees United Soccer Academy in Chad, Cameroon, and Tanzania. Further, iACT is supporting an early-stage refugee-initiated livelihood solution to support the decreasing food rations and environmental challenges of eastern Chad.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Refugees arrive in camps with the entire experience of their lives, not just the violent one that forced them to leave their home. They come with community assets, education, local knowledge, aspirations, culture, and more. They are the resident experts in challenges facing their community and possible solutions. LEAD with EMPATHY simply provides a structure to utilize their strengths and grow new leadership and human rights-based skills in order to address critical gaps in aid and services.

Geographic Focus

Refugees living in Chad, Tanzania, Cameroon, and the Los Angeles area (California, USA).

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

For full implementation and roll-out, iACT anticipates a 24-month timeline, with roll-out of the initial curriculum happening in the first 12 months across all four locations. Participants will take 30 weeks to complete the curriculum. They will then have the opportunity to implement solutions to community challenges they identify. Finally, debriefing with each community, sharing lessons learned among the four groups, and iterating upon the leadership curriculum will follow.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No
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Attachments (5)

Lesson 2 Leading with Empathy (1).pdf

LESSON 2 of the LEAD with EMPATHY curriculum. This is to provide an example of the format and design of each lesson.

LwE overview.pdf

A document which provides an overview of LEAD with EMPATHY.

Table of Content.pdf

A list of all the lessons/topics completed by users of LEAD with EMPATHY.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Angi Yoder Maina

Hi @iACT 

Interested in your daily mindfulness exercise. Who creates this for the program? In what language(s)? Is it recorded so that people can down load them to their phones and use the mindfulness exercise on a daily basis, or are they only used when they meet? Are your refugee groups who you are doing this with, religious and do they have other cultural awareness practices that they are interested in using instead of the mindfulness practice? Last question, what type of training have you given to the facilitators of your program?Sorry lots of questions. Thanks. Angi.

Photo of iACT

Hi Angi,
We always appreciate lots of questions! Regarding our mindfulness exercises, our mindfulness curriculum is developed in partnership with InsightLA, including the founding InsightLA teacher, Trudy Goodman Kornfield as well as mindfulness expert Joslyn Hitter and mindfulness for children expert Susan Kaiser Greenland. In partnership with Translators Without Borders, we translate our mindfulness exercises into the language of the refugees we work with. To date, we've translated our content to Arabic, French, and Kurundi.

We have not digitalized our curriculums yet. This is something we aim to do in the future. For now, we provide printed documents with guided exercises and in-person training and delivery of exercises. The refugees trained in our mindfulness curriculum, such as iACT program teachers, coaches, etc. then guide their students, players, and children through the exercises in-person.

Our mindfulness exercises are not grounded in religion. Put simply, our mindfulness exercises teach how to pay attention, on purpose and without judgment, in the present moment. The practice of mindfulness, of exercises such as sitting and focusing on the breath or paying attention to how we feel as we walk or move, teaches individuals to be aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they show up, and to notice what they are feeling and thinking, without judgment. Our exercises are one tool integrated into our program curriculums and we do not expect or advocate that mindfulness replace any religious or cultural practice.

The refugees who have been trained and exposed to mindfulness through our programs have been incredibly receptive. In fact, when we conduct interviews, mindfulness is often referenced as the favorite activity and topic learned during our training. Refugee teachers and coaches of our programs often reference mindfulness as being one of the most liked activities of children attending our programs.

Additionally, all iACT curriculums, including mindfulness exercises, are designed as a framework. Meaning that each unique group of refugees has the freedom and is encouraged to adapt and infuse the curriculums with their culture. For example, Darfuri refugees love to play and use drums. So, we worked with Darfuri refugee teachers of our programs to incorporate the use of drums during mindfulness exercises with their students.

We provide participatory training to our “facilitators” being our program education directors, teachers, and coaches prior to implementing our programs and additional training throughout the year. Facilitators typically complete at least three iACT trainings, if not more, and we provide ongoing mentorship to our refugee program team. iACT staff as well as expert advisors (such as the mindfulness experts mentioned above) deliver the trainings in person across each refugee camp.

Thank you, Angi! I hope that answers all your questions! I’d be happy to share our Mindfulness Overview with you to give you a bit more background and information on how we integrate mindfulness into our programs.

Photo of Angi Yoder Maina

Thanks for your really comprehensive response. I would love to know more about your mindfulness activities. My email is -- we are also using mindfulness programming in our trauma-informed conflict transformation programs as one of many types of awareness and practice activities in our social healing programs in the Horn of Africa. We are working to develop short mp3 versions for our participants and have developed both English and Kiswahili versions to date. We have found our police partners and participants in particular really appreciate the mindfulness activities / resources. In our Somali program (with a small sample size) we found our approach has had major impact showing a significant decrease in 9 out of 16 PTSD symptoms post-intervention. The one common denominator for the participants who showed the changes was they each had added daily, intentional mediation / mindfulness practice since the work with our program.

One more question, since you are working with a wide variety of cultures, context and levels of violence experience -- is there anything you do to adapt the programs for cultural and social nuances?


Photo of iACT

Hi Angi,
Wow, we'd love to learn more about your work as well! I'll be in touch via email.

To answer your question, our curriculums are adapted with each group we work with. We share information, ideas, curricula, and refugee individuals involved in our programs learn the curricula, use it, and provide us feedback, ideas, and direction. It's iterative and collaborative.

Photo of Angi Yoder Maina

Cool. Please be in touch, you have my email above. There is so much to learn about this work in general.


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