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NaTakallam-connecting refugees/displaced persons and language learners worldwide

NaTakallam works at the intersection of education and livelihoods to support displaced persons with an income, many of them students.

Photo of Aline Sara
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What problem does your innovation solve?

Displaced persons, many of them highly educated/or whose education was interrupted by conflict, face numerous challenges finding work. By providing a remote work opportunity as language partners online, NaTakallam gives them access to an income, informal learning and friendships by interacting with language learners worldwide, effectively helping them to develop their soft skills, improve their English, and build employable skills--at times conducive to full-time jobs/resettlement.

Explain your innovation.

NaTakallam is the first ever language platform where language practice is delivered by displaced persons. NaTakallam is tackling the urgent employment crisis surrounding today’s global refugee crisis, and more specifically, the fact that among the 65 million forcibly displaced people, millions are highly qualified and educated individuals who have been robbed from finishing their education or finding a job due to legal and cultural barriers. Our solution is an online social venture, which self-generates its own revenue, based on the fact that these refugees all speak languages that many people around the world are interested in learning. Starting with a focus on Syrian refugees and Arabic, NaTakallam has worked with over 1300 students from around the world (60% in the US) and about 60 Syrian refugees living in 10 different countries (mainly in Lebanon, Iraq, France, Italy) by connecting them for language exchange. NaTakallam finds refugees, vet and trains them, and their income through the platform has become the main srouce of revenue (60% or more) for 50% of the refugees working in the project. About 60% of NaTakallam's conversation partners (especially in Iraq and Europe) are students who are able to continue their education with this flexible source of income. They are often studying a new language in their host country or getting trainings such as coding, and working for NaTakallam helps self-sustain them, in addition to developing their English skills and soft skills.

Who benefits?

The main beneficiary of NaTakallam are young displaced persons who have interrupted their education due to the conflict in their homeland. For young women, often mothers, NaTakallam is something they can practice from home, while staying with their children. At present, NaTakallam is focusing on Syrian and Iraqi refugees/ IDPs. Many are frequently displaced persons who need an income to sustain themselves while completing their studies in a host country. We are also working with partners that provide trainings, such as the UNDP backed-Re:Coded program, which offers a coding school to refugees. The fellows rely on NaTakallam to make an income while completing the coding bootcamp. NaTakallam provides beneficiaries with soft skills and cultural exchange resulting from their one-on-one work the language learner, in addition to financial support to pursue formal education. For young women, NaTakallam has an added value as it can be done from the comfort of their home.

How is your innovation unique?

NaTakallam leverages the gig economy and lies at the crossroad of education and livelihoods, providing income for refugees who then ensure their own education while gaining critical skills (ex. English), soft skills related to professional communications and online tools and cultural learning. NaTakallam is unique and the first such program. NGOs tend to focus on in-country programming, while NaTakallam- a "tech-for-good" startup leverages the global gig economy and market based needs of language learners to support refugees who are in the midst of their education, recently educated or arriving to a host country but struggle financially and culturally. NaTakallam values partnering traditional education programs and supporting already educated youth to avoid loss of human capital of young, educated, and at times forgotten, displaced people. Human connections, self-sustainability, and soft skills are unconventional education that support the ultimate goal of education: employment.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

NaTakallam faces unanswered questions with regards to scaling up--not so much that scaling up is not possible, but we are looking for support in ensuring we are utilizing all the opportunities that are out there to work and support displaced persons at the intersection of education and livelihoods. This can very much be done by collaboration and finding the organizations and experts that can support our endeavors and complement each other. This challenge has been particularly helpful at signaling potentially wonderful partners, such as Breteau Foundation Mobile Bus Program, The Dhad Adventures, Koulu School - Everyone has something to teach (whose view that everyone has something teach we strongly share) and Instant Class for Emergencies.

Tell us more about you.

NaTakallam’s co-founders, Aline Sara and Reza Rahnema, have a combined 15 years of experience in international development, Middle Eastern affairs, and the aid+policy sectors. Aline is a former human-rghts focused journalist and Reza has expertise in econometrics and program managements. Our wed developer is a syrian refugee, recently resettled to Canada. Our two other core members are Arab-Americans and also have expertise in the NGO and UN sectors. We have over a dozen NGO+academic partners.

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

  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

NaTakallam's innovation is currently focused on the Syrian refugee crisis which is due to armed conflict and prolonged displacement. The model can be applied to other settings as well.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

The innovation is being implemented in Brazil, Canada, Europe and the Middle East, especially Lebanon and Iraq. It is also planned to be expanded during the year to Jordan and potentially Egypt. As an online platform, the opportunities are endless and we plan to significantly expand with our support of refugees in Greece, Jordan, Egypt and potentially Libya and Indonesia as we have NGO contacts in all of those places.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

In Lebanon, NaTakallam originally worked with a local NGO named Sawa for Development and Aid in Syria. It is now currently working with a local lebanese NGO named Arc en Ciel. NaTakallam is also in conversation with larger international NGOs such as the Danish Refugee Council and UNHCR. NaTakallam is a partner of the International Rescue Committee, working collaboratively on the website. NaTakallam is also partnered with a number of universities in the US.

Sector Expertise

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

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

NaTakallam's team comes from a diverse background in the field of journalism, human rights, international development and artistic design, with a signifcant focus on the MENA region. Team members have had various work experiences in institutions such as the UN, major thinktanks, USAID and rights organization, notably focusing on refugees. In addition, all team members speak multiple languages, have benefits from an international education and direct exposure to the communities we are supporting.

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 for-profit company (including social enterprises).

Organization Location

New York, US Paris, France Beirut, Lebanon


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

Over the past few weeks, we've delved into the impact with regards to educational outcomes of our refugee conversation partners. We've surveyed them to assess the extent to which the work with NaTakallam and our belief in the power of soft skills, gig opportunities and human connections, has supported them and we've learned that many of them would also like us to support them as they look for scholarships abroad. This was very interesting and something we hope to explore.

Who will implement this Idea?

Our social entreprise is already functioning and as a young entity, we have several team members who wear multiple hats. We are interested in hiring a full-time person who would be dedicated to fostering partnerships with programs that provide more traditional forms of education to displaced persons, who would partner with NaTakallam to give refugees income, marketable skills and cross-cultural exposure (through their language students). The person would also support refugees searching for resettlement/scholarships and begin to develop a program targeting even younger refugees.

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?

The refugees we are working with are looking for more income opportunities and ways to get full-on scholarships abroad. The general systems-level challenge we face at NaTakallam is having more staff to focus on sharing the word about NaTakallam so that more people sign up and support young refugees who work as their language partners while completing their studies, both traditional studies or other studies that enable their smoothe resettling into a new life, a new society and way to regain a normal sustainable life that takes them out of survival mode.

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

NaTakallam generates revenue by selling language-related services provided by refugees to individual users and institutions, including universities, NGOs and corporations, among others. Our most popular offering is language teaching/conversation sessions online, however we are also developing translation, editing and social media moderation services.  We are primarily focused on Arabic, but will add other languages and refugee communities in the long run. We use a commission-based model and work closely to meet the needs of the client, whether institutional or individual language learner.

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?

NaTakallam aims to revolutionize the language industry while humanizing and changing the narrative around refugees, frequently seen as a burden rather than an asset. In 5 years, we hope to support several thousand refugees from around the world, having dozens of thousands learners and institutions involved. Our biggest challenge remains figuring out how to adequately partner and leverage all the opportunities available to work with those who are common-minded.

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

# displaced persons (conversation partners) hired + Retention rate for conversation partners # of female conversation partners hired # of displaced persons making minimum wage + # who are able to complete educational program they might be in +find job# NGO/Educational Partners # of displaced persons that gain citizenship in country of resettlement # of language learning clients Retention rates of students # hours sold # University partners # Organizational clients

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

In the next 3 years, we hope to support over 350 refugees, of which a majority are young displaced persons, in their early 20s, and also a majority women.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $100,000 and $500,000 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 a registered entity, but not in the country in which we plan to implement our Idea.

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
  • Program/Service Design
  • Communications / Marketing / Graphic Design


Join the conversation:

Photo of aarav null

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Photo of Dave Hughes

Hi Aline, this is a great idea! My name is David Hughes and I am the Project Director for the Bendigo Inventor Awards.

Now in our 7th year, the Bendigo Inventor awards have as our focus inventions that address needs in the Emergency Services and Disaster Management space, and we offer a AUD$10,000 prize for the winning entry. The Bendigo Inventor Awards has also created an environment for inventors to obtain support for their ideas by bringing together a coalition of partners with the knowledge, skills and networks to accelerate the progression of ideas from concept through to commercialisation. Major Program Partners include Engineers Australia who are providing technical feedback, KPMG who are offering advice on commercial viability and the path to commercialisation and Red Cross, who are providing their perspective on the relevance of many inventions to disaster relief efforts. Our judging panel also contains representatives from Emergency Management Victoria, who are able to provide similar feedback on the applicability of inventions to the emergency services.

I believe your idea would be a fantastic entry into the awards. Applying is easy and can be done through our website Simply select the category that your invention applies to – ‘Concept’ or ‘Product and Prototype’, and answer some questions about your invention. All judges are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so your idea is protected. Entries close 5pm Friday 29th September 2017 AEST.

I very much look forward to seeing your invention go on to great success, and hope we are able to assist you in enabling that to happen. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to get in touch on the phone number above, or via my email at

David Hughes
Project Director
Bendigo Inventor Awards

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Photo of Christel

Wow. What an interesting idea. Can I seek some clarification? Are you hoping to do this just in refugee camps or is it going to be used with people who have settled outside of the camps?