LAGUNA HILLS, California — Refugees and migrants face many challenges amid displacement. These individuals are fleeing persecution, conflict, poverty and horrifying circumstances. While working to rebuild their lives, they experience xenophobia, tension, and barriers to education, health care and job opportunities.
Three organizations that create socially inclusive spaces for migrants and refugees using technology and innovation are Speak, PLACE Network and SchoolX.
What Is Speak?
Many refugees and migrants struggle with language barriers that challenge their ability to find a sense of belonging. The key to their integration into host communities is language. Hugo Menino Aguiar, the founder and CEO of Speak, told The Borgen Project in an interview “It was very clear that people that cross borders with totally different backgrounds and contexts will face the exact same challenges.”
Speak is an organization based in Portugal that aims to connect newcomers and host communities through language learning groups. Its website or app is easy to use and makes learning a new language accessible to everyone. Aguiar explained, “we created Speak with two goals. Well goal number one is to help newcomers with that support network. Goal number two is to make progress in language learning worldwide”. According to Speak’s website, Speak has over 65,000 users, reaches 190 countries and teaches 90 languages.
Its language groups connect people who want to learn a new language with a buddy who knows that language. People can sign up for online or in-person groups at various language levels.
To create socially inclusive spaces, Aguiar says, “The magic of Speak is we do it in an indirect way.” When newcomers arrive in a country, there initially may be little awareness about integration for both newcomers and host communities. The language barrier makes it harder to build new relationships. Aguiar says, “we use language, people who are motivated in language learning, we put them together. Even if there is no interest in knowing this culture or country, this happens in an unconscious way.” The common goal of language learning brings people together.
Speak hopes to continue to expand. A program called Take Speak to Your City launched recently encouraging people to start their language groups. Aguiar says, “we have that goal of reaching 100 active cities.”
What Is PLACE Network?
PLACE Network is an organization that fosters working relationships in innovation between newcomers and local communities. Sedera Ranaivoarinosy, the communications manager for PLACE Network told The Borgen Project in an interview, “The mission of PLACE is really to change the narrative on migration in Europe. PLACE was created on the heels of the refugee crisis in 2015-2016.” The France-based organization brings newcomers and host communities together through its programs in entrepreneurship and business, public leadership and the media/arts.
PLACE’s entrepreneurship focuses on putting people who want to create their businesses in contact with people in the local community. The public leadership sector helps migrants participate in civic involvement, non-profits or governmental agencies. It encourages migrants to get involved in their host society. Ranaivoarinosy says newcomer’s perspectives are important; “it’s a big thing about all of these programs, it’s how you give the opportunity for the person to be seen, and to be able to live beyond that status of a migrant that they’ve gained.”
These programs are led by facilitators who help the catalysts or participants become leaders in their field. The newcomers need this support in finding their place in the host society. According to its website, PLACE Network has had 500 learners since 2017 with 79% of its learners being refugees.
PLACE Network is currently developing a part of its media and arts program called the Artivism Alliance. The concept of artivism works to change the narratives holding migrants back. Ranaivoarinosy says, “One of the big tools with which we do change narratives, in general, is through culture and arts.” PLACE Network is cultivating a rich environment for culture and community.
What Is SchoolX?
SchoolX provides online educational programs to vulnerable communities, particularly Arab refugee communities. The U.K.-based organization uses technology to reach thousands of children with teachers. According to its website, SchoolX has reached 263 million children who previously did not have access to school.
The online education program provides classes in marketing, language, programming, accounting and career planning. Students have the opportunity to connect with local teachers and learn important skills for the workplace in their host society. Using profiling algorithms, students are matched with teachers. Every teacher goes through certified training, then runs small classes in their local community.
SchoolX is giving children the opportunity to learn regardless of their background while integrating them into their local community. The organization utilizes technology to connect students and teachers and create socially inclusive spaces. Refugees often do not have the opportunity to go to school, socialize and learn. Social inclusion for many children starts in the classroom. SchoolX is making it possible for refugees to create a new community.
These three organizations are helping newcomers learn skills such as new languages, how to build a business and various career planning options through technology. With their help, newcomers can be integrated into their host society with access to opportunities to develop collaborative spaces. Speak, PLACE Network and SchoolX create socially inclusive spaces for migrants and refugees in the networks developed by the organizations.
– Ellie Bruce
Photo: Harvind Ganase