NaTakallam – where language learning meets social impact for refugees

By Lucy Davis, Communications, PR and Development Officer, NaTakallam

Today, there are over 100 million forcibly displaced people in the world. NaTakallam, a social enterprise, is disrupting the way we typically think of humanitarianism, language learning and international development. By being the bridge to the private sector, NaTakallam provides vital work opportunities for refugees and conflict-affected individuals, including in Ukraine.

Today, there are over 100 million forcibly displaced people in the world. They face not only the loss of assets and livelihood but also of their agency. Mobilizing displaced individuals to regain their agency and earn an income is at the heart of NaTakallam’s mission. However, xenophobia is becoming more widespread – given a microphone by major political figures and mass media in North America and Europe. With a lack of human understanding and personal empathy, hostility towards refugees is rising, which is reflected by discrimination in the labor market.

If societies and individuals aren’t open to welcoming refugees, it can be difficult for the private sector to know how to support them.

A middleman between the private sector and refugees

As a social enterprise, NaTakallam plays a unique role as a middleman between the private sector and refugees. Our work ethos is to challenge negative assumptions, and show that displaced persons are not burdens, but assets. We believe that businesses at large have a role to play in being part of the solution to the refugee crisis.

Since 2015, award-winning NaTakallam (which means “we speak” in Arabic) has been offering high-quality, curated language services delivered by refugees, conflict-affected individuals, and their host communities through the digital economy. These services include online language teaching and tutoring, translation and virtual interpretation services, as well as cultural exchange sessions. On the one hand, NaTakallam provides our Language Partners with the training and mentorship needed to perform the services, offering them a pathway to sustainable income during and after displacement and/or in the early stages of resettlement. Meanwhile, on the other hand, we provide language learners worldwide with a quality service online with a baked-in impact.

To date, NaTakallam has been successful in disrupting the way many typically think of humanitarianism, language learning, and international development. We have provided over $1,700,000 in cash to more than 455 Language Partners, Translators & Interpreters from refugee and host community backgrounds, worldwide. We were recently featured in the IKEA/Acumen Top 100 corporate-ready social enterprises. We have also been successful in contributing to at least 9 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2015.

We enable our Language Partners to provide translation services for both private and public sector organizations, such as the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, and Kiva. From website localization to video subtitling and more, NaTakallam provides services in 100+ languages, and simultaneous interpretation in Spanish, Arabic, French, Portuguese, Ukrainian, Romanian, Polish, Slovak, Latvian, and Lithuanian, Estonian, Japanese, Czech, Bangla, Hindi, and others.

Along the way, NaTakallam has also fostered intercultural exchanges and raised awareness around the daily challenges of living in/near conflict zones through classroom programs with over 300+ educational institutions worldwide, including schools and higher education institutions in the UK, US, Mexico, Spain, Japan, and more. Some of the participating higher education institutions include Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Tufts, and Yale.

Responding to the crisis in Ukraine

In light of the current affairs and as a response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, we swiftly launched language services in Ukrainian and Russian, providing tangible and immediate support to Ukrainian and Russian-speaking Ukrainians fleeing the invasion. When we started this process at the end of February, there was no way to know how the military invasion would unfold or that it would turn into the full-scale war we are seeing today. All we knew was that hundreds of thousands of people were already fleeing the onslaught of violence – leaving behind homes, jobs, and relative security – for the instability of life seeking refuge. Many refugee Language Partners from the NaTakallam community worldwide spoke out with messages of solidarity, sharing their support for Ukrainian people who had been forced to flee.

We contacted dozens of humanitarian NGOs to get the word out about recruitment. While there is no single profile of our Language Partners, we mainly work with Ukrainians from Eastern Ukraine who teach Russian and Ukrainian, as well as Russians forced into exile due to political and economic oppression. Given the sudden and unpredictable disruption of the war, we are working with teachers who have fled the country alongside those who remain in Ukraine homes but are deeply affected by the conflict and have lost their livelihood as their students leave the country. All are women – who are at higher risk of violence and exploitation and each has professional language-teaching experience.

The response to this initiative was tremendous; so far, over 350 language sessions have been purchased. NaTakallam’s initiative has also provided a sense of community and communicated international solidarity to Ukrainians affected by the crisis. NaTakallam’s Ukrainian Language Partner, Yaroslavna Mykhoych recently shared her experience with NaTakallam:

“My personal support is NaTakallam, its community, and its members who have been unconditionally supporting me from the day I met them…My cultural exchange students from the U.S. have been sending me photos of little but such heartwarming details showing support for Ukraine…This is what helps me to move on with my life at the moment – NaTakallam’s community, it’s amazingly sympathetic students who learn Ukrainian and Russian.”

Each language lesson, classroom session, and translation work at NaTakallam contributes to the livelihoods of our displaced language partners, translators, and interpreters from around the world. You can bring NaTakallam to your homes, classrooms, and organization, today, and support us in furthering our mission and impact. Learn a language, change a life.

Editor’s note: If you are interested in getting involved or would like to volunteer with NaTakallam or know displaced persons who could become a language tutor, translator, or interpreter, reach out to NaTakallam here. You can also find out more about how businesses can respond to the war in Ukraine through Business Fights Poverty’s Rapid Response Facility.


Authors: Lucy Davis, Communications, PR and Development Officer, NaTakallam, with editorial support from Maria Thomas, NaTakallam Copywriter, and Tara Gerashi, Marketing Manager at NaTakallam


Read more articles on Refugees and Migration on Business Fights Poverty here

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