Conversations Unbound (CU) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that empowers forcibly displaced individuals as paid online Arabic, Spanish, French, or German tutors for students around the world. We aim to create opportunities for displaced people to increase their agency and economic opportunities, while striving to provide a robust educational experience for students to improve their foreign language skills, engage in rich, cross-cultural dialogue, and think critically about forced displacement.
With increasing numbers of forcibly displaced people, daunting projections of future displacements, and heightened levels of societal resentment towards these displaced communities, Conversations Unbound was founded in 2015 to provide livelihood support for forcibly displaced people, while also meaningfully engaging college students in this global issue.
We are inspired by the resilience, entrepreneurial spirit, and breadth of knowledge and expertise of the CU tutor community—through our programs, we provide a platform for them to be seen, valued, and inspire others.
Accordingly, through our work, we strive to reimagine humanitarian aid by centering individuals traditionally on the receiving-end of aid programming as the language tutor, the producer and provider of knowledge. By privileging the knowledge and expertise of our tutors, CU’s programs aim to equalize these traditional power dynamics whereby tutors and students can learn from each other by engaging in meaningful dialogue. Consequently, CU believes that empowering displaced communities means enabling these people to be able to increase both their agency and economic stability.
CU’s tutor team—the core inspiration for the organization—is composed of talented, resilient, and entrepreneurial individuals originally from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Mexico, Venezuela, the United States, Burkina Faso, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Though all CU tutors have a background of forced displacement, no displacement experience is the same. Some have fled violent conflict or persecution; others lacked job opportunities in their home country and were forced to migrate to support themselves and their families; still others are first generation citizens negotiating their displacement history within the context of their xenophobic, anti-immigrant nation-states. CU recognizes that forced displacement is both an immediate, raw experience and one that can impact families for generations.
CU welcomes all those who identify as having a background of forced displacement to our tutor team.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
• Alaa Khabbaz, CU Arabic Tutor
• Chris McLaren, former Program Director at Small Projects Istanbul
• Kelly Ann Collins, CEO at Collins & Company
• Othman Karkokli, Community Liaison Officer at Small Projects Istanbul
• Eva Woods Peiró, Professor of Hispanic Studies at Vassar College
FRIENDS OF CU
Alisa Swire, Esq.
Aziza Ismail, Founder, LiteraSeed, LLC
Brian & Sarah Tormey, President, TitleVest
Daniel Davies, Capacity Development Program Associate, Natural Resource Governance Institute
Frederick Deknatel, Managing Editor, World Politics Review
Jim Leu, italki
Marguerite Nowak, Senior Cluster Coordinator - Syria, UNHCR
Simon Craven, Associate at Levitt & Needleman, P.C.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
What we currently do:
CU actively works towards a diverse and inclusive organizational culture. Our actions aim to touch on all aspects of CU and include the following:
CU Tutors and Students:
Promote an inclusive definition of forcible displacement that enables our tutors to define this term in accordance with their own lived experiences;
Ensure our tutor team is representative of our values of gender-equity by empowering women and non-binary voices;
Source tutors from a range of geographies to break down the assumption that students should learn a language from a specific part of the world or dialect;
Work with tutors and students who have various computer literacy gaps so that CU is an accessible opportunity regardless of tutors’ previous access to or experience with technology;
Adapt our payment systems so that they work for the tutors in each of their unique contexts;
Create an entire online platform that is specifically designed to be used by language learning students and tutors from a forcibly displaced background;
Hold Cultural Sensitivity trainings for all students and tutors that participate in our organization;
CU Admin Team:
Require all team members to have the same basic level of understanding on many complex issues related to our work (race, gender, borders, humanitarian aid, etc.) through completing required readings and holding periodic discussions on key topics;
Implement an Ombudsperson position and train the person to be effective in handling internal complaints;
Implement an inclusive volunteer hiring process to ensure CU is an accessible opportunity for anyone interested by actively working to expand our networks;
Implement a rigorous on-boarding process to ensure CU members have the proper awareness and cultural sensitivity required to work with forcibly displaced communities
What we commit to doing in the future:
CU acknowledges that being diverse and inclusive is an ongoing process and therefore these are actions we will be taking in the future:
Plan and execute a Diversity and Inclusion Training for the entire CU Administrative team from a trained professional;
Diversify our team by encouraging volunteer applicants from all backgrounds and promoting those who reflect our mission and values to leadership positions. We welcome and encourage new perspectives and identities to our team, but do not expect any one person to speak on behalf of a group;
Increase accessibility to our programs and our organization
IN THE NEWS
April 20, 2017
February 1, 2017