Disclaimer: NaTakallam is an MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab alumni; Arab Startup Competition Semifinalist, 2017, and winner of the Innovate for Refugees Competition, 2017. This case study was originally included in MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab's latest edition of an impact report titled 'Arab Entrepreneurship Maturity Index: Insights and Forecasts' published in partnership with Roland Berger.
The idea behind NaTakallam came in 2015 from Lebanese-American entrepreneur Aline Sara, who was looking for Arabic conversation classes in the United States. Aline saw a gap in the market – Arabic classes were too expensive, too focused on traditional rather than conversational language, and often not taught by instructors who live and speak the language every day.
On the other side of the world, the Syrian civil war had forced millions of Syrians to flee their homes and find refuge in neighboring countries. These refugees faced severe financial hardship, unable to obtain work permits in their host countries. Aline developed a novel solution: to create a platform for Syrian refugees to teach Arabic to people across the world over Skype.
Expanding across borders
NaTakallam has since expanded their network of language teachers beyond just Syrian refugees. Today, they give refugees across the Middle East, Africa, South America and Europe an opportunity to generate valuable income by making use of their language skills. Based on the number of refugees in need of part-time work around the world, they have now scaled their business up to offer four languages: Arabic, French, Persian and Spanish – with Portuguese, Turkish and Kurdish in the works. Since its inception, NaTakallam has connected over 160 displaced persons with 6,000 people in more than 65 countries globally for language classes over Skype but also for translation work – a more recent service line.
This adds up to over 30,000 hours of language learning sessions, bringing revenues of over $1.4 million, with 60% to 70% of the income generated going straight into the pockets of the refugees. Having expanded their offering to include translation services, NaTakallam has delivered high quality results at competitive prices to over 50 clients – both corporates and NGOs – in over nine languages. NaTakallam has also provided robust academic programs, focused on either language or cultural exchanges with universities and schools around the world. To date, over 300 academic institutions have invited NaTakallam language partners to offer their expertise and share their knowledge as part of their courses.
A Platform for All
NaTakallam's business model is flexible and has been able to accommodate refugees in need anywhere in the world. Thanks to the user-friendly nature of their platform and their matching process, they have been successful in sustaining and growing their business. NaTakallam's vision remains to provide income to those who are struggling to access the local market, to continue to grow in offerings and populations served, and to continue to bridge cultures and understanding in a polarized world – all while molding itself in line with global macroeconomic events.