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#MeWeSyria: Activating youth to discover, reclaim, and unleash healing and change

#MeWeSyria is a refugee-led platform leveraging the process of storytelling as a vehicle for healing, community building, and changemaking.

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What problem does your innovation solve?

Forced displacement strips youth of safety and agency, which often translates to a loss of control of how the mind and body respond to the world around them. Refugees’ education journey is limited because traditional programs aren’t refugee-led, they lack opportunities to exercise social and emotional development, structures of psychosocial support, and interpersonal communications. #MeWeSyria addresses these losses by restoring agency and community-healing through storytelling.

Explain your innovation.

#MeWeSyria (MWS) is an education platform that leverages storytelling, self-awareness, and entrepreneurship to build safety and agency for refugee youth. The MWS program, through a training of trainers system, creates a growing network of “replicators” in partner communities trained in therapeutic and pedagogic knowledge that syncs narrative therapy, somatic experiencing, and communications literacy. The MWS program is then localized and delivered by replicators to young refugees in spaces like refugee camps, community centers, and mosques. The “replicators” are Syrian refugees themselves--selected with our local partners-- ensuring sustainable upkeep of the program due to their intimate relationship with MeWe methodology. Skills learned and bonds built through MWS are then leveraged to design community changemaking projects, restoring individuals’ sense of control and opportunity for refugee youth. Replicators mobilize the community to participate in the program and activate youth-led storytelling for changemaker hubs where youth literally and figuratively author their futures, while enhancing social and emotional learning, wellbeing, and inter-personal communication.

Who benefits?

MWS targets female and male refugee youth (ages 10-20) in rural and urban areas with limited access to education or psychosocial support. To date, more than 500 youth, parents, and caretakers have completed the MWS program in eight cities across three countries. Over the next 18 months, MWS aims to reach 2,000-3,000 additional participants (including 60% female beneficiaries). Girls in conflict zones face specific vulnerabilities to violence and restrictions on self-expression. MWS works to re-establish an environment where girls are empowered by unlocking their voices, creativity, and agency alongside trained and trauma-sensitive female “replicators”. Additionally, MWS will assess impacts on learning, wellbeing, and stress through the use of psychometrics that have been developed with academic partners and mental health practitioners. This measurement survey is taken before and after implementation. Data so far shows consistent and meaningful growth in all four of these categories.

How is your innovation unique?

First, MWS infuses the knowledge of neuroscience and trauma psychology into a curriculum that links mental health support and emotional development, with storytelling and communications skills. Second, MWS is a refugee-led program embedded within pre-existing youth organizations, ensuring maximum outreach for refugee youth. Third, the curriculum’s pedagogic and therapeutic core (mind-brain education, mindfulness, and storytelling) can be integrated into existing activities taught by other youth professionals. Fourth, MWS works alongside the Ashoka Changemaker framework, an established network of social entrepreneurship and community activism. Lastly, embedded in MWS are tools for evaluation where stories are seen as data points that can inform policy and practice. Our separate psychometric tool allows practitioners to assess behaviors and attitudes, (empathy, stress control, collaboration, leadership capacities) pre and post intervention.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

While MWS replicators are highly trained, there is a risk that MWS activities can trigger traumatic memories in refugee youth. Over the coming months, our teams will undergo even more specialized training and utilize “trauma toolkits” that we will create with clinical professionals. These toolkits will teach skills necessary in coping with trauma and stress during MWS sessions and ensure youth are safe from retraumatization. Additionally, MWS is exploring ways to maintain beneficiary engagement after they complete the program or move away from MWS hubs. Current solutions include providing “startup” funds for community projects and creating a mobile storytelling app to continue skill building, self-care, and community mentorship.

Tell us more about you.

MWS was founded by Mohsin Mohi Ud Din, current director of Storytelling Innovation at Ashoka’s Youth Venture (YV). MWS works with a small network of dedicated individuals in YV, key technical partners including neuroscience researchers Michael Niconchuk (MWS’s technical adviser), and others at Harvard U and Northeastern U, as well as clinical psychologists. Most importantly, MWS is driven by our dedicated team of refugees who run activities in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

MWS is currently implemented in eight cities across three countries. Each country presents a unique set of challenges for young refugees and has its own internal challenges brought on by an influx of refugees. While MWS is primarily adapted to a context of prolonged displacement, the program has been tested in under-resourced communities in South Africa and the United States. We hope to expand our innovation to refugee communities in Europe, Latin America, East Africa, and North America.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

MWS is being replicated in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan by 20+ Syrian refugees, in partnership with community-based organizations. Currently, MWS has been implemented in Gaziantep, Osmania, Shanliurfa, Marsin (Turkey), Beirut, Bekaa Valley camps, and Tripoli (Lebanon), and Za’atri Refugee Camp (Jordan). As we expand, partners will be selected based on overall capacity, need for education programs, and ability to link MWS with ongoing activities in their communities.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

MeWe methodology has been tested since 2009 with NGOS in Morocco, Kashmir, and South Africa. Since 2014, MWS has built local partnerships in refugee communities in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan. Current community partners include DARB, Questscope, and Mobaderoon. MWS is supported by Ashoka’s networks: Youth Venture, Changemaker Schools, and Ashoka Fellows and has strategic partnerships with UNHCR Innovation, the German Mission to the UN, Vice Impact, Global Citizen, MiT Solve, and Beyond Conflict.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

#MeWeSyria is implemented through community partners with legal registration, transparent management, and between 2-25 years of experience implementing refugee/youth education programs in their communities. MWS core staff and trainers come from diverse backgrounds, from neuroscience to international affairs, with anywhere from 3-6 years of experience in complex emergency settings and refugee crises.

Innovation Maturity

  • Roll-out/Ready to Scale: I have completed a pilot and am ready or in the process of expanding.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

Youth Venture is based in Arlington, VA but MWS is globally implemented in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan with local partners, Questscope and DARB-Syr.


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How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

All outside feedback is what refugee users have already been sharing with our team in the current ‘Tune Up’ phase. For OpenIDEO feedback, we created two User Experience Maps to further explain the processes of MeWe methodology for replicators. Concerning education feedback, MWS enhances a refugee’s social/emotional development and changemaker skills (empathy, leadership, teamwork, problem-solving) necessary for resiliency in their education journey, and to connect passion with purpose.

Who will implement this Idea?

The founder of MWS, Mohsin Mohi-Ud-Din, is a full time staff member of Ashoka Youth Venture (YV) and the director of Storytelling for Innovation. Mohsin and YV staff collaborate with a Syrian refugee coordinator based in South Turkey, two regional coordinators (RC) based in Lebanon, and two RC based in Jordan. All teams work within existing youth organizations in the 8 cities MWS operates in and are in contact with all 30+ replicators. In addition to these team members, MWS has three part time staff that are experts in the field of neuroscience and clinical psychology.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

On a daily basis, refugee youth and their families are concerned for their physical safety, legal status (work/residence permits, education permissions, host country stigmas), and risks of deportation. Furthermore, the geopolitical climate of refugees changes weekly which impacts funding and policy. This constant state of insecurity transforms into re-traumatization, aggression, and isolation for a young person. To alleviate this high-risk situation, the MWS methodology is continuously updated and informed by neuroscientists, refined by clinical psychologists, and co-created with refugee replicators who already work within community organizations with established protocols on severe trauma cases.

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

Our sustainability model is founded on co-ownership of the program with refugee youth communities since our replicators are Syrian refugees themselves. They are eager to co-own the unique methodology. Furthermore, MWS is fortunate to have secured wholesale partnerships and are currently exploring partnerships where entities integrate changemaker and storytelling culture into their broader youth programming and strategies.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

By 2021, we aim to have the MeWe platform (both online and offline) engaging marginalized youth communities across Africa, Central, South, and North America, and MENA regions with wholesale partners so our young changemakers inform policy and become active participants in the “Everyone a Changemaker” world. How can our core MWS replicators, who are refugees themselves, continue to launch, activate, and engage young changemakers even when they resettle or are forced to migrate?

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

MWS has designed and piloted a psychometric scale measuring learning progress, empathy capacity, stress, creative collaboration, and problem-solving. Staff report weekly to assess challenges, insights, and updates. In conflict/emergency settings, MWS enhances resiliency assets and social/emotional development so youth can thrive as changemakers. Our 9 years of experience in three countries informs us that education in emergency should address both the head and heart, not just facts and figures.

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

Until January 2018, MWS is in a ‘Tune Up’ phase where staff and replicators collaborate on needs-assessments and refinement of MWS tools . Existing replicators will engage in capacity building for communication, neuroscience, and trauma-informed care. By February 2018, we plan to complete the ‘Tune Up’ phase, reaching 400+ new refugee youth across Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Then, we plan to commence a ’Scale Up’ phase and expand to five total countries, reaching 2,000 youth over 1.5-2 years.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $500,000 and $1,000,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • Under 5 paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are registered in all countries where we plan to implement.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • More than 2 years

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
  • Business Model Support
  • Other Technical Expertise


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Thank you for the article. Very informative.

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