Problem: The world is facing the worst loss of human capital brought on by the global refugee crisis. With 79 million people displaced from their homes by conflict and an average length of displacement of between 20 and 30 years, most refugees and displaced people live in low- and middle-income countries where they face enormous challenges in rebuilding their lives and are often excluded from the labour market of their host countries.
Solution: NaTakallam leverages the digital economy to create income opportunities for accessible tech-enabled refugees, connecting them to language learners worldwide for online language practice, or to clients seeking translation services.
Goals and objectives: Providing those who’ve been forced to flee their homes with income, hope and dignity through modern-day technology.
Implementation: Upon completion of her masters in International Affairs at Columbia University in the summer of 2014, founder Aline Sara was looking for an affordable way to practice Arabic—specifically, her native Lebanese regional dialect—from her base in New York City. At the same period, fleeing the violence from the brutal civil war, millions of Syrians were pouring into Lebanon, where today, roughly 1 out of 4 people are Syrian. This mass migration and its ensuing refugee crisis inspired Aline Sara to develop a service in support of these refugees.
NaTakallam ("we speak" in Arabic) is a social enterprise that connects refugees and displaced people with remote income-earning opportunities related to language and cultural exchange as online language tutors, translators, and cultural exchange instructors, providing them with economic empowerment, purpose, and re-gained dignity.
Established in 2015 with founding team comprised of individuals with extensive experience in economic and political development, conflict resolution, human rights, humanitarian affairs, language learning and journalism, NaTakallam originally offered one-on-one language practice over Skype, specifically for Arabic with Syrian refugees. Consequently, the services have expanded to include: Levantine Arabic (Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese), as well as Egyptian, Iraqi, Yemeni and Sudanese Arabic. Beyond Arabic, it also offers French (with refugees from Congo DRC, Burundi, Guinea), Persian (with Iranians and Afghans) and Spanish (with Venezuelans and Central Americans).
NaTakallam offers three distinct services: individual language learning sessions, translation services, and K-12/University and virtual guest speaker sessions.
The service operates on a commission-based model-the majority of the revenue going to refugees, paid through NGO partners/online payments. Refugees’ performance are based on customer surveys and retention rates. The objective is to provide an income equal to the monthly minimum wage in refugees’ host country.
NaTakallam is currently in the process of launching a fully automated web platform for users and language tutors. This launch will coincide with a new website for initial visitors as well. All core members of the team are multilingual, multinational citizens with a background in and passion for humanitarianism & global intercultural exchange. They also have experiences working with major international organizations across the Middle East, Latin America, North Africa and Sub Saharan Africa. As such, the core element of the business- the livelihood opportunity for refugees and IDPs- is central to the team, and it will remain central from an ethical perspective throughout NaTakallam’s growth.
By prioritizing partnerships, NaTakallam has been successful at forming business relationships with 70 schools and 20 universities including Yale, Columbia, and Georgetown among others, and boast a 70% renewal rate with academic contracts. They have also worked with over 300 K-12 schools and are experiencing steady growth. The company’s eight permanent staff are dispatched around four offices in New York, Paris, Cairo and Beirut, which significantly helps with business acquisition efforts.
Budget: NaTakallam conversation partners (CPs) worldwide earn $10-75 USD per hour depending on the service.
Achievements: Over 8,000 people have engaged in more than 30,000+ hours of NaTakallam sessions and refugees have generated over $800,000USD through their individual language tutoring, guest speaking, translation and classroom work on the platform. NaTakallam has also partnered with over a hundred schools and universities worldwide.
In 2016, NaTakallam was winner of the World Bank Youth Summit ‘Rethinking education for the new millennium’ award and this year, it was selected a top 5 idea among 650+ submissions in the Bridgebuilder Challenge, a collaboration between GHR Foundation and OpenIDEO that recognizes development solutions through open innovation at the intersection of peace, prosperity and the planet.
NaTakallam has also been recognised by the Cartier Women’s Initiative, Enterprise Forum PAN-Arab Region, World Economic Forum, ELLE, Project Entrepreneur of UBS and Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.