Solution Overview

Solution Name


One-line solution summary.

AILEM seeks to provide knowledge and education tailored for the needs of refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into society.

Elevator pitch

What is your solution?

AILEM is an app that aims to provide language education for refugees and asylum seekers to help integrate in a foreign country from 0 exposure to the language. The content of the app is tailored to allow refugees and asylum seekers to be able to converse in the foreign language from meeting their basic physiological needs such as food to expressing opinions. 

Our goals of AILEM are the same goals as our target users', which makes our app stand out as we focus on the people in need and take on this empathetic model to tailor our app to them. Made by refugees and asylum seekers for refugees and asylum seekers - This is the human centric approach and philosophy we want to achieve and it is extremely rare to find this ethos in the business world. 

AILEM is unparalleled with anything on the market. Invest in an app and project that is designed and tailored specifically for the target users and regions. AILEM cultivates, invests, and empowers an untapped population, helping create a stronger future for everyone.

What specific problem are you trying to solve?

We started this project because we saw a challenge in our refugee community. Our co-founder Abo, when he just arrived in Brussels as an Afghan refugee faced many troubles in integrating in society. He was frustrated with the lack of support for learning French and eventually feeling extremely isolated.

According to the United Nations’ high commissioner of refugees, 37 million refugee children are out of school, and only 24% are enrolled in secondary education. Refugees spend years in these camps with no education, and thus struggle to integrate into the local educational system and the society, especially in Europe. An UNESCO document stated “The most striking barrier seems to be the absence of language and literacy programmes'' in regards to the main challenge for successful completion  of adult literacy and language.

By far, language is typically the first and most direct challenge faced as they arrive in a foreign country. Through our survey with our refugee community, we identified that listening and speaking help are the most in demand. External tutors can be expensive and some may not have the meals and time to travel into the city to attend classes, especially if they have to balance work.

Being socially excluded or marginalized have the highest risk of poor health outcomes and results in poor self-esteem, lack of self-efficacy, stigmatization and homelessness. An UNHCR document pointed out that radicalization to violent extremism is attributed to poor education.

Who does your solution serve? In what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Our main target users are refugees and asylum seekers, especially those who has just arrived in the country. This is because the arrival is often the most challenging phase from learning to navigate around a new city and the lack of connections made initially.

Our language app is facilitated through reading engaging stories that revolve in common conversations from introductions to ordering food at a restaurant, ensuring that the refugees have the language capabilities to express themselves and seek out services. We achieve this through our storytelling curriculum, where each story aims to mimic a typical conversation. In later chapters, we also include stories to introduce culture and promote multicultural understanding between the refugees and their new home. 

Our next feature is AILEM map, a map that provides instantaneous access to key phrases like a personal dictionary. The idea of this feature is that it can address short term needs, to allow the refugees to speak from day 1.

In the AILEM language learning model, we aim to create a learning process that users can learn with stories, flashcards, quizzes and more - a learning environment for refugees and asylum seekers to improve on their abilities.

What makes our app stands out to other language app is that we tailor content to the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers, we can achieve this with our refugee and asylum seekers panel - consulting them and gives them a platform to determine what goes into the app.

What steps have you taken to understand the needs of the population you want to serve?

We have 2 regions we want to pilot and address first is Brussels and Wales. We chose to tackle Brussels, Belgium because initially our app was inspired from the experiences of one of our co-founders, Abo, who is an Afghan refugee living in Brussels. Thus, with our deep connection to the refugee community in Brussels, that's where we want to pilot our project.

Next, Wales is also chosen since it is the nearest refugee centre to where our main student team is studying at - UWC Atlantic College. The school and one of the other co-founder, Xinyao, has had a connection between the refugee centre in Cardiff, as there is a co-curricular where student volunteers teach English to refugees at the centre. According to the Welsh Refugee Council in Cardiff alone, there are just over 10,000 refugees. This is where we are aiming next to launch our first in person user testing and presentation event. 

Our long term goal in these regions is to help elevate the overall level including speaking, listening, reading and writing, ultimately empowering them from being self-sufficient from self-expression. The model can be easily scaled up to any region that refugees and asylum seekers have the need.

Which aspects of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Improving learning opportunities and outcomes for learners across their lifetimes, from early childhood on (Learning)

Our solution's stage of development:

Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community

Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution—in other words, what have you accomplished to date?

Our app is in between the pilot and growth stage. Since we have finished our minimum viable product with the release of our first beta version on google play store, free to download. Our previous alpha version was created using the software Figma to make wireframes and piloted with refugees in Jordan as mentioned previously.

Now, this beta version would be the first official downloadable app that anyone can use. But more importantly, we are working to visit several refugee camps in the UK and Belgium to test out with refugees and asylum seekers. We want to move to in person testing which would be a more engaging process for both our app team and also the refugee users.

We have created our first draft course in French and English modeled after the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. With this, we are working with the educational experts, students and teachers to provide a comprehensive and holistic curriculum.

Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Brussels, Belgium

Team Lead:

Xinyao Liu

More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new use of an existing technology (e.g. application to a new problem or in a new location)

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

The main technology is our educational app coded with Android studio and later moving onto IOS and web apps. Instead of hosting the server, we have built our own starting server then building up with more users signing up. Renting servers can be very expensive and with this investment will save us costs in the long run. Our first server is hosted using raspberry pi, which we have already tested if it is able to run the app. 

As mentioned previously, we want to include AI to aid language learning, especially for the pronunciation coaching services. To do so, the AI will be based on the ML deep neural network technology due to its proven capability to conduct a variety of tasks including speech recognition.

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning
  • Audiovisual Media
  • Software and Mobile Applications

In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Belgium
  • United Kingdom

How many people does your solution currently serve, and how many do you plan to serve in the next year? If you haven’t yet launched your solution, tell us how many people you plan to serve in the next year.

Currently, we are in direct contact with a minimum of 20 refugees based in the UK, Belgium and Jordan. This formed our preliminary panel to provide feedback for our beta app. As we launch our app in Brussels, we are doing an in personal marketing campaign to visit the refugee camps and centers in the city. We are expecting all the refugees and asylum seekers based in Belgium specifically to start the life-changing experience and pass it on to their peers for the sake of shared benefit. The count of refugees in Belgium is approximately 61,662 according to the statistics for 2019. 

There are 2,353 asylum seekers in Wales, and according to the Welsh Refugee Council in Cardiff, just over 10,000 refugees. So starting small in March, we have planned a trip to Cardiff to showcase our app with refugees in Cardiff in the Trinity Centre, which typically caters to around 30 refugees. We also have refugee connections spread across the region including, Bridgend, Llantwit, Cowbridge and more.

In the span of 5 years, with a resounding achievement indebted to the worldwide recognition of the app among refugees around the globe, we will be able to lead an unparalleled social impact on a wide variety of refugees in many different countries starting from Europe and the US. Our plan at this point in time will have targeted an optimistic number of 20 million refugees.

What are your impact goals for the next year, and how will you achieve them?

Our main goals are - Relevancy, Empowerment, Accessibility and Privacy.

Relevancy -  ‘Made by refugees for the refugees’ Through the panel we strive to make content that is relevant to refugee’s lives. By growing our panel to having more feedback from our target users will help us reach this goal.

Empowerment - Language education to empower refugees and asylum seekers to be able to express themselves. One example is a conversation between Omar and Marie, exchanging about Belgium and Arab celebration. Language can empower refugees to help them integrate in a new society, allowing them not only to access basic services such as food and transport but also to express and voice out their own opinions, challenges and culture. Language is the catalyst of social inclusion and multicultural understanding, hoping one to to bridge the gap between the different cultures for social equality.

Accessibility - We aim to put as much content as possible offline to be accessed without the internet (except to download the app), even in refugee camps. With future features, we strive to continue to have offline access. 

Privacy - All data in our app is fully encrypted including but not limited to passwords, emails, names, levels and more. To reach this, we are working towards being fully compliant under the new GDPR law in Europe.

How are you measuring your progress or planning to measure your progress toward your impact goals?

With measuring progress, this is best illustrated from Eric Reis’ ‘The Lean Startup’ book. At this stage, our goals listed out above will be mainly tracked through accountable metrics and aligning to SDG indicators. On the technical aspect, we want to track the progress of the users, and those who dropped out or did not continue would determine if there is an issue with the course or areas for improvement. In the future, we aim to implement a feature for users to express their confidence at the end of each chapter. It is useful for the users in case they wish to revisit the chapter and for the team it can be a sign that the chapter needs further improvements. 

We want to use our measures to learn more about what is important for our target users. Our goal is to avoid vanity metrics - metrics that look good on paper to others but are not helpful in visualizing performance such as gross users, most prominently explained in Eric Reis’ book.

What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year?

Market barriers can pose a challenge in a competitive market that is language learning apps. Along with the added challenge of convincing a group to adopt a new app and use it consistently. There is also the physical barrier that all refugees may not have access to phones, but a study conducted in 2016 by the UNHCR stated that more than 70% of refugee households have phones - undoubtedly the value will have increased during these few years and in the future. In an UNHCR blog, refugees already use smartphones and social media platforms mainly – communication, information and navigation, all of which our app are actively addressing.

The content may take long to develop when we expand to other regions with different languages and customs. Writing up new content and translation requires a lot of manpower and a large dedicated group to overcome. 

As we do not have 1 consistent stream of revenue such as a defined consumer, one identified challenge is ensuring that we will have enough donations and grants to be able to cover our costs especially when we start to expand and costs increase.

About Your Team

How many people work on your solution team?

4 student leaders, 36 student volunteers

How long have you been working on your solution?

11 months

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

The early hardships in living in Belgium heavily inspired Abo to pursue the app, he also volunteered in refugee camps in Belgium. Abo’s other passion is coding, in the summer of 2020, Abo coded a website from scratch that teaches theoretical physics for beginners. Abo has lots of personal connections and contacts to refugees in Belgium being a refugee himself but also volunteered in local groups that support refugees. He also knows 8 languages, very useful for translating and communicating with refugees.

The other co-founder, Xinyao is an active member in the co-curricular STAR, teaching english to refugees and asylum seekers in Cardiff, an inspiration for the project. In her experience, she learned that they heavily relied on refugee centres, where they were able to get food, practice conversing in English and more. Xinyao also worked on many startup projects such as the Certified Immune app.

Zakarya is our translator for the application and researcher, he was part of an SDGs (sustainable development goals) action campaign in his country and he is an intermediate python computer programmer. Begin a refugee himself, he also has many connections and experiences to build the app best suited to our target users.

Lucia is our in-house artist, she was chosen from her valuable experience from the role as the Executive director for 24 Hour Race and her graphic design endeavours. She is a IB Higher Level Visual Arts student with her speciality in creative digital drawings and designs.

Besides our core team, we have a large dedicated student volunteering community that all share the like minded passion for this project. Currently our core team is a mix of refugee and non-refugee students, along with diverse nationalities. 

What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?

As seen previously, through our connection with Amala Education, we started our first remote testing program with refugees in Jordan.

We integrated alot of feedback from J. Rafael Angel, who was one of the main authors of the IB Spanish Ab Initio curriculum. With his education background, he gave us advice on how to structure the curriculum and techniques such as spaced repetition and chunking that aids language learning. 

Additionally, we are also working with language teachers in UWC Atlantic College to also validate our course. With both of these institutions, our goal of the partnership is to create an approved high quality language course for our target users.

Your Business Model & Resources

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Solution Team

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