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In order to be considered in the final round, they actually had to pilot the platform — so they did.
Though they didn’t win, Sara was determined to see her idea through, and by autumn of 2015, Na Takallam began to take off.“Suddenly we had 150 people signed up in August,” she said.
In 2014, Aline Sara had just earned her master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and, like many recent graduates, was feeling demoralized by the job hunt.
She decided to move to Beirut, Lebanon, and work on her Arabic language skills while searching for jobs in the humanitarian field, when she was struck with a “haunting realization.”“What do you do when you have so many skills and you’re not even allowed to apply them? She wasn’t thinking of herself, but the millions of refugees worldwide who are “in complete limbo,” stuck in host countries that will not legally allow them to work and support their families, she told Global Citizen.
In nearby Jordan and Turkey, Syrian refugees may be issued work permits, but policies place the burden of securing work permits for refugees on employers.
If you’re willing to possibly drown — take your children onto a boat with a high-risk of drowning or just not making it — that’s how desperate you are,” a frustrated Sara added.“We can’t just keep turning our backs on this and ignoring it.”Since it launched in 2015, Na Takallam has employed more than 70 displaced people, served 1,500 language learners, and hosted over 15,000 hours of conversation.
The startup takes advantage of the “gig economy phenomenon” and the trend of people working remotely as “digital nomads.”“Refugees are forced nomads, so it only makes sense to leverage the trend to support people who are displaced,” Sara said."We are here at a conference titled Rethinking Education; we invite you to rethink #refugees, not as people who need education, but as educators themselves.
Suddenly, Sara — who had been wary of the startup world because “everyone has a startup now,” as she put it — found herself pitching her own venture at a Columbia University startup competition.
She and her team of fellow Columbia graduates made it past round two, but still, all they had was an idea.
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Sara wanted to create a conversation platform for Arabic-speaking refugees and language learners that would give refugees an opportunity to leverage their skills and earn income, while offering language learners a chance to practice colloquial Arabic.“I actually didn’t know what social entrepreneurship meant,” she admitted.