Describe your venture in 8 words or less.
Connecting learners and displaced Syrians for Arabic practice.
What brought you to realize the need for your venture in the world?
I am Lebanese-American and grew up speaking French and English. I have always wanted to perfect my Arabic, which, over the years, took the back seat. I have taken a variety of Arabic courses both in the US and in Lebanon. More recently, after graduating from my masters in NY, I struggled to find easy and affordable classes, especially those focused on Arabic dialect, which is usually not taught in the classroom yet much more practical for day to day communication. Given my background in human rights and journalism in the Middle East, where I worked at the time of the 2010-2011 uprisings, I am particularly aware of the Syrian crisis, especially in Lebanon, which is home to some 1.5 million refugees out of a total 5 million population. Many Syrians are not allowed to work in the local Lebanese work force nor in several other countries of resettlement. I came up with the idea of NaTakallam to operate on the two above-mentioned fronts (1) to assist Syrians seeking employment and (2) to provide Arabic learners in need of flexible, affordable, enriching language practice opportunities. The project is a win-win situation for both ends and comes at a critical time in which the global refugee crisis is the worst since World War II. Companies, governments and NGOs around the world are increasingly recruiting Arabic speakers, while International institutions and policy makers are desperate for innovative solutions to the refugee and migrant crisis.
If your venture succeeds in its mission, what would the world look like?
If NaTakallam succeeds, language learning could be entirely transformed all while creating a positive impact for communities facing specific challenges such as those surrounding employment. Beyond language benefits, conversations generate intercultural exchange and understanding. The concept of NaTakallam could go beyond Arabic, expanding to other languages and communities in especially challenging situations. At present, pairing Arabic learners and displaced Syrians has already played a role to help narrow the divide between two often polarized worlds. While many users have easy access to the media. few have the opportunity of interacting with native speakers from the Middle East both to practice Arabic but to also hear their stories, untainted by the media. This is especially useful at the university level and for those interested in pursuing careers in policy and international affairs.
What brings you to the Pitch for People in search of human capital to support your org.?
Our team’s strength is in its international nature, familiarity with and extensive network of NGOs and professionals in the Middle East. We have a profound understanding of the politics of the region, the refugee crisis, the socio-psychological issues that need to be considered when working with communities such as refugees and displaced people, alongside an acute understanding of what it takes to learn Arabic given all three core members of NaTakallam are dual citizens from the Middle East who have studied Arabic. What we lack is the MBA side, the business mind, the executive and management skills, which is exactly where investment capital comes in. We need more expertise in business and technology for the startup’s day to day operations and capacity to grow efficiently and capitalize on our present success.
What's a quote or saying that inspires and motivates you?
“The longer I love, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. [...]. We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude...I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”
― Charles R. Swindoll
What's the best piece of advice you've gotten this week?
Don't forget to take a break and disconnect from time to time :)
Want to learn more about NaTakallam? Join us at the Pitch for People on April 7!