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Karam House

Karam House is a community innovation workspace where Syrian refugee youth turn their passions and ideas into realities.

Photo of Lilah Khoja
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What problem does your innovation solve?

Karam House solves the problem of a lost generation; it is a place where Syrian refugee youth can learn competitive skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics that are essential to advancing their educations and futures in an inspiring, safe, and healing space for those who have lost so much through the trauma of displacement and war.

Explain your innovation.

The Karam House is a pilot model driven in its design by the Syrian refugee community’s needs which we researched and cultivated through our experience on the ground for over two years and translated those needs into impactful and scalable programming. The programming includes holistic healing, remedial programming as well as emphasizing on technological and skill-building education programs. We aim to address the needs of the displaced children and youth, especially amongst refugee girls. Through our education programing, we focus on helping foster young women’s sense of self and confidence ranging from their individuality and importance within the community and building towards becoming a potential leaders for positive change in their immediate surroundings and beyond, now and in the future. We believe that most impact we can create for Syrian refugee girls is by unleashing their untapped potential and empowering them with the skills and knowledge to build a better and brighter future. Karam House is sustainable because it is for the community, and from the community; the full-time mentors at Karam House are from the target community, and the idea is following the Karam House graduation of the youth and following their university graduations, that they would come back and become mentors themselves for the younger students. There are no enrollment requirements. Upon admittance, students attend a crash-course to learn the basics of the space. Karam House is free.

Who benefits?

Our target population are Syrian refugee girls and boys, ranging in age from 14-18. Our target number of individuals enrolled in the Karam House: Reyhanli is 1,000 Syrian refugee children and youth with a target girl to boy ratio of 60:40. Girls specifically will benefit from the program as it will be a means of preventing early child marriage: girls with no education are three times more likely to marry before 18 than those with secondary and higher education. A typical beneficiary is Samah, aged 15, who has a passion for the sciences. At Karam House, Samah can immerse herself in workshops related to aviation and coding, which would help her in her path towards university and the workforce. Success will be measured by the number of students who access Karam House; how many go on to pursue higher education; how many return to be mentors; and how many pursue creative work inspired by workshops at Karam House.

How is your innovation unique?

Karam Foundation's biggest advantage in implementing Karam House has been the proven success in implementing similar projects since 2013, most notably the Journalism Program, which has secured a number of students 4-month long internships at major Arabic-language newspapers, and the Entrepreneurship Program, which led to 14 students being hired for remote summer jobs. Karam Foundation's experience working with and for the target population ensures that the program will be successful. Other organizations that are addressing the challenge in a similar way are Ruwwad and Row3d in Jordan. However, their approach is more specialized (Row3D) and general community-based (Ruwwad) than Karam House, and of course, not based in Turkey where Karam House is based. Karam House differs in that it is a holistic approach to education and wellness, and is specifically designed with the Syrian community for the Syrian community in a country that is home to the largest number of Syrian refugees.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

The team is still trying to determine the best way to assess and monitor the impact of the program. As one of the commenters noted, it is not enough to track simply the numbers. Furthermore, we are still working out the best way to keep track of and in touch with the future graduates of the program. We are also trying to figure out the best way to achieve sustainability. Our gaps are mostly in expertise, though we have been trying to build capacity with regards to these two things for the past year.

Tell us more about you.

Karam Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to help people help themselves. We seek to restore the dignity and quality of life for people affected by conflict by eliminating barriers to success through innovative education, entrepreneurial development, and community-driven aid in Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Our core members are Lina Sergie (CEO) , Nada Hashem (Director of Operations), Roya Naderi (Directory of Communications), and Lilah Khoja (Education Coordinator).

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

  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

In prolonged displacement, children lose access to the most important of tools: education. The Syrians who fled to neighboring countries did not expect to make it their new home; a return was imminent in their eyes. 6 years later though, that return seems far away. In Reyhanli alone, there are over 300,000 registered refugees with hundreds of thousands of others unregistered, waiting to start their lives. 22% of these refugees are school aged children, more than 40% of whom are out of school.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Our program will initially be scaled in Turkey, focusing on cities and towns that have absorbed a high number of Syrian refugees. Karam House has been piloted in Reyhanli, Turkey with expansion set for Istanbul, Gaziantep and Ankara in Turkey and eventually in Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries with a large refugee population. As no two towns and cities are alike, each Karam House will need to be tailored slightly to be more effective. This will be done through local needs assessments.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

Karam Foundation maintains established and close relationships with local schools in the Syrian refugee communities in Reyhanli and Istanbul, and maintains collaborative relationships with local community groups and NGOs. As Karam has been operating in Reyhanli since 2013, we have a large network to rely on for support.

Sector Expertise

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

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Karam Foundation has implemented a number Innovative Education in Turkey since 2013, serving over 8000 Syrian refugee children and youth with workshops led by over 130 international mentors. In addition to the Innovative Education missions, Karam Foundation also supports youth through the Karam Leadership Program and various scholarships for university-aged students. The innovation will be implemented by a dedicated team in Turkey, composed of young (18-26) Syrian men and women.

Innovation Maturity

  • Existing Prototype or Pilot: I have tested a part of my solution with users and am iterating.

Organization Status

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

Organization Location

Karam Foundation is a registered INGO in Turkey, with offices in Istanbul and Reyhanli. Karam Foundation also maintains an office in Chicago, IL, USA.


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

The feedback has caused our team to think about the ways our impact assessment can be improved, and we are still in the process of better determining how to best measure.

Who will implement this Idea?

The people implementing this idea are a group of 6 mentors and 3 program staff based in Reyhanli (and future Karam House locations!). These staff members and mentors are drawn from the community itself. For example, in Reyhanli, the mentors and staff are Syrian refugees from the area. The program staff are full-time, and the mentors would be part-time depending on the season.

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?

Our end users are Syrian refugee children. That means they face a number of challenges on a day-to-day, individual level and systems-level. On the day-to-day, individual level, the biggest challenges are simply being able to afford to go to school and other educational programs. Though in Turkey, for example, schools are public and free for refugees, many families need their children to work to supplement the household income. Many students, especially older ones, find themselves having to work. Other students may lack the ability to get from point-A to point-B due to a lack of safe, reliable transportation. The biggest systems-level challenge that affects our end-users are the existing gaps within their education due and their precarious status as refugees within their host country.

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

We currently receive our funding via a mix of private donations and small grants. We build connections with our private donors, and many host special fundraising events within their communities. The majority of our private donors are also recurring monthly or quarterly donors. We understand that achieving sustainability is an on-going process that will change as the organization and its projects evolve. Through studied investments, expansions, and continued transparency we've been able to grow using a model similar to the Heartfelt Connector funding model.

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?

IMPACT: By 2021, Karam House will be located in every major Turkish city that is a host to a significant Syrian refugee population, having impacted over 5,000 students directly and hundreds of families broadly through employment and professional development opportunities. QUESTION: How do we maintain our guiding principle that depth, and not breadth, is what has a bigger impact while also attempting to achieve a measurable and sustainable larger-scale impact?

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

The outputs that we expect to achieve are the target number of student enrollments at Karam House and for each workshop; and year-round workshops taught by full-time Karam House mentors and by visiting mentors. The outcomes that we plan to measure are the %age of graduated students who return as mentors, move on to college or employment in a related sector (i.e., coding), community engagement with KH, and the number of students who pass various language proficiency exams (Turkish, English).

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

By January 2018: - Identify a location for Karam House Istanbul By June 2018: - Graduate the first class of Karam House-Reyhanli college-ready students; - First class of Karam House-Reyhanli students begin as summer mentors By August 2018: - Expand capacity of Karam House-Reyhanli; - Open Karam House Istanbul By January 2019: - Reach 1,000 student enrollment at Karam House-Istanbul. By June 2019: - Graduate first class of Karam House-Istanbul students By August 2019: - Open KH-Gaziantep

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Above $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?

  • Between 5-10 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?

  • Between 1 and 2 years

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

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


Join the conversation:

Photo of Arvind Kumar

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Photo of stephanie ludwig

Dear Lilah and Karam house crew,

My name is Steph and I am part of the Cyrcus Collective. We really like your approach and feel we have a very similar perspective as be both aim at using education, technology, arts and mentoring in an integrated way to address the increasing issues with the "lost generation".
While your work area seems to be very hands-on, which makes sense because you already have an established Youth center, our intervention aims at using visualization and light projections to bring relevant topics closer to participants through tech art.

We see that our approaches could complement each other really well. In future, if all goes well, and we start implementing also in the the Syria region, would you be interested in hosting us ? We could then provide visuals to your youth, and at the same time, they could learn building and developing visual content, tech art, and sensor-based interactive projections themselves. Would that create added value for your project?

We also submitted for this challenge (check us out:!c-e416e3c2eab9f4c789eaa87563b8feb8) The programming includes holistic healing, remedial programming as well as emphasizing on technological and skill-building education programs.

Looking forward to hearing from you.
All the best, Stephanie

Photo of Lilah Khoja

Hi Stephanie! What you and your team sounds fascinating. We would love to talk to you about hosting you at Karam House -- please shoot me an e-mail at lilah [at] karamfoundation [dot] org.

Photo of Mia Eskelund

Such a great initiative! I wonder whether there is room for collaboration with our project, Sky School. Our organisation is trying to set up a "global high school for refugees", and we are starting in Jordan in September, but looking for opportunities to also enrol young Syrians who are living in Lebanon. Wondering whether you might be interested in setting up a call to discuss? All the best, Mia

Photo of Lilah Khoja

Sure -- would love to talk about ways to collaborate. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

Photo of Mia Eskelund

Sounds great - I can't see your email, but mine is Would be great to chat!