NaTakallam (‘We speak’ in Arabic) leverages technology to meet the needs of millions of highly educated, displaced persons with no access to income. Through the social enterprise, refugees can work as online tutors, teachers, cultural exchange instructors, and translators, providing customers with high-quality language services. This partnership is often a lifeline to displaced and conflict-affected individuals, who are now able to work regardless of their location or status. NaTakallam also provides refugees with the training and mentorship needed to perform the services, which offer a pathway to sustainable income during and after displacement and in the early stages of resettlement.
NaTakallam is a woman-owned social enterprise with team members coming from different countries, including Lebanon, China, Rwanda, Turkey, Mexico, Italy, USA, Syria, Tunisia.
The topic of refugees exploded in 2015 when the photo of 2-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s dead body on Turkish shores went viral. Since, global displacement (nearly 100 million people) has continued to rise. COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation and stalled resettlement processes, and displacement due to climate change is accelerating: another 150 million people will become refugees by 2050 (World Bank). Furthermore, the Russian military invasion of Ukraine has displaced an estimated 17.6 million people who will need humanitarian assistance in 2023 (UNHCR). In October, 2023, the ongoing conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territories escalated, and with 90% of civilians in Gaza currently displaced, the need for critical assistance is clear – and will likely only continue to increase.
Millions today have crossed borders yet remain stuck in camps and border detention. As many host countries don’t give them legal residency, they often have no or limited access to gainful income opportunities within the local economy. Even when formally resettled, refugees face linguistic, legal, or cultural barriers to entering a new labor market. Refugees are already separated from their homes and families, often with limited ways of staying in touch. With a lack of human understanding and personal empathy, hostility towards refugees is rising, equally reflected through discrimination in the labor market.
No matter the reason for displacement, NaTakallam’s goal is to break a cycle of isolation from society and the economy, regardless of their location, work status, or any other legal or societal barriers to employment. Unlike the traditional humanitarian sector, reliant on external funding and focused on delivering short-term solutions, NaTakallam expands livelihood options through sustainable and autonomous income, as well as social support and professional development. In the long run, NaTakallam aims to create a ripple effect, by changing the narrative around refugees, building vibrant virtual communities and building partnerships to encourage the inclusion of displaced individuals in academic and corporate settings.
Technical details & Operations
In the era of the “connected refugee” and with demand for virtual language learning services skyrocketing, NaTakallam leverages refugees’ language talent and cultural awareness to create new work opportunities in the digital economy, by hiring skilled refugees as language tutors and translators through the digital economy. Tutors are recruited through NGO partners on the ground & connected to students around the world in a virtual learning space. NaTakallam’s innovation lies in disrupting traditional perceptions of refugees, highlighting their potential rather than treating them as passive aid recipients.
NaTakallam’s solution leads to multiple outcomes: (1) Refugees earn income and build community (2)Thriving connections are built, transcending borders and dismantling the stigma around displaced people (3) Online learning gains a whole new feel + type of community, leading toward impact on major global crises.
NaTakallam products include:
- Individual language & Cultural Exchange Sessions (in various Arabic dialects, Persian, French, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Kurdish, English and Armenian); an integrated curriculum in spoken and Modern Standard Arabic
- Translation & Interpretation services (professional translation and interpretation services offered in 20 languages)
- Academic programs (a variety of semester-long language lessons or guest speaker sessions addressed to K-12 schools or at universities)
NaTakallam’s market-based solution creates impact through:
- Financial income and soft skills to displaced persons; access to affordable and impactful language services for a client base ranging from big corporations to underrepresented individuals and students through academic partnerships
- Purpose, dignity and human connection to displaced persons
- Fostering hope, building bridges and giving refugees a voice, beyond the media and political spheres, while bringing empathy and impactful education services
Deployment & Impact
As a social enterprise, NaTakallam’s operations in language learning, translation, interpretation, and cultural exchange services have collectively generated over $5,300,000. Of this, $3,200,000 has directly supported tutors and translators from conflict-affected and refugee backgrounds.
Rather than seeing refugees as passive recipients to aid, NaTakallam sees them as actors in a digital economy, and measures impact based on the following key performance indicators:
- the number of refugees and their host community members working at NaTakallam
- average monthly revenue generated by refugees and conflict-affected individuals members
- the number of clients using NaTakallam services
- NaTakallam client recurrence rates
- the number of educational institutions, companies, and organizations partnerships established with NaTakallam
As of today, To have a network of 500+ Language Partners have worked with more than 16,000 individual users in over 110 countries. NaTakallam has collaborated with more than 300 organizations and academic institutions, including notable entities like Ben & Jerry’s, Meta, Twitter (X), WeWork, UNHCR, Women Deliver, Care, Columbia University, the University of Cambridge, and Yale University. 60% of Partners report that NaTakallam constitutes their sole source of income. 40% of them sustain themselves economically via NaTakallam while pursuing educational opportunities. 30% of Partners say they have found another job thanks to NaTakallam.
NaTakallam’s impact extends beyond individual language learning, exemplified though partnerships with institutions, schools and universities. NaTakallam has worked with +17,000 students in K12 schools and 4,000 + university students through partnership building. Refugee Voices – NaTakallam’s bespoke cultural exchange initiative that shines a light on the experiences of the refugee tutors NaTakallam employs, has impacted 900+ lives. NaTakallam’s work also creates a ripple effect through this virtual networking, by advancing the human capital offered by these displaced persons, all while changing the narrative around refugees. Furthermore, by connecting refugee tutors and translators to companies and organizations seeking language learning and translation services, NaTakallam helps companies meet their UN SDG goals.