connecting communities: social enterprise conversation over borders joins edtech startup somos as a co-owner 🚀

updated on 10 June 2024
a remote class taking place as part of the english & befriending project at conversation over borders
a remote class taking place as part of the english & befriending project at conversation over borders

🤯 tl;dr - fast facts

🎉 a new chapter in our journey: welcoming uk social enterprise conversation over borders to somos as a co-owner!

we're buzzing with excitement and can finally share why!

usually, announcing new shareholders for startups like us means a closed fundraising round. but today is different, and it's a pivotal moment for somos. we're not just adding a shareholder; we're launching our community partnership scheme with our first ever community co-owner… the awesome conversation over borders (“cob” - as we’re mates now).

so, what does being a “co-owner’ in somos mean for cob exactly? let's dive in. 🌍

🔄 our unique co-ownership model: collaborating with mission-aligned charities and social enterprises

when somos was just an idea, shared ownership was a major cornerstone of the mission and vision. we wanted a platform where teachers could become co-owners, not just service providers. where our team, advisors, and supporters would be rewarded fairly for their contributions and where innovative grassroots organizations could find not just a corporate sponsor but co-advocacy and long-term partnership.

we are fortunate to have been backed by 23 community focused investors who have helped us create space for a co-ownership model that values collaboration and shared equity.

let’s break down what that looks like in practice…

  •  📈 equity ownership + dividends: when a community partner becomes a co-owner, they receive 500 shares, entitling them to dividends and a payout in the event somos is sold.

  • 💰 1% of everything that flows through the platform (i.e gross merchandising value, not just profits) is split equally among our core community partners.

  • 🥳 1% of any additional revenue: we donate another 1% of extra somos revenue to our impact fund, which is also divided equally among our core community partners.

  • 🌐 in-kind benefits + support: we offer complimentary access to our technology and entry to our discount marketplace in collaboration with builtfirst.

now that you're clued in on how the scheme works, let's shift the spotlight to the star of the show: conversation over borders. 🌟

🤝 why conversation over borders is a perfect match for somos

the right to move is the right to survive.

modern, deadly, authoritarian border systems that place a hierarchy on who gets access to that right are endangering the lives of millions of people. 

we need a groundswell of communities, individuals and businesses to reject these systems and prioritise a shift towards fairer, more just ways of engaging with how people move. 

at somos, we see organisations like Conversation Over Borders that offer holistic, human focussed support to refugees & asylum seekers as not only community critical resistance to these regimes but fantastic examples of what is possible when we prioritise cross-cultural understanding, well-being and thoughtfulness.

we're grateful to be working with them and look forward to actively supporting their powerful advocacy work.

khawar malik | founder & ceo, somos

our first community partner was always going to be a big deal for us as a team, and we couldn’t feel luckier that it’s an amazing social enterprise like conversation over borders

before delving into how they approach their critical work, we wanted to mention a few things that have really resonated with us as we've gotten to know them over the last 18 months:

  • 💚 commitment to mental well-being: their trauma-informed workshops and mental health services show a deep understanding of the holistic needs of refugees and asylum seekers.
  • 🤝 community-led initiatives: from online cooking classes to storytelling, many aspects of their project are refugee-led which aligns very strongly with the "build with, not for" philosophy at somos.

  • 🚀 focus on long-term impact: cob aren't just about quick fixes; they're about fostering long-term relationships and making a lasting difference.
  • 🔥 innovative approach: whether it's their digital inclusion program or their one-on-one digital skills mentoring, they're always looking for new ways to work with their community.
behind the scenes at a recent cob community get together
behind the scenes at a recent cob community get together

🔦 spotlight on conversation over borders: bridging borders through english conversation classes and more!

so what exactly do cob do? working with refugees & asylum seekers across the uk, cob offer a range of services like english & befriending classes, mental wellbeing support, and digital inclusion initiatives.

beyond programme delivery, much of their work also amplifies refugee voices through storytelling and campaign work. 🌍

cob are all about creating a lasting impact. they've been at it for over three years, fostering meaningful relationships and connecting displaced individuals with the broader community.

their approach counters the negative stereotypes often perpetuated about asylum seekers and refugees. 🔄

conversation over borders have taught a sensational 13,500+ english conversation classes since 2020!
conversation over borders have taught a sensational 13,500+ english conversation classes since 2020!

since they started, cob have...

  • conducted an incredible 13,500+ online english classes! 🤯
  • built a vibrant community rooted in cross-cultural exchange: 92% of their volunteers increased their understanding of displaced people's experience in the uk through engagement with cob's impactful programmes 🏠
  • significantly diminished social isolation: 75% of their community feel less isolated after classes 🤝
  • boosted people's confidence in language skills: 98% of learners increased their confidence in spoken english after just 8 weeks! 🚀
  • distributed 124 phones, laptops and tablets and 165 SIM cards, connecting 177 displaced people to the digital world! 🌐

what sets them apart? their refugee-led mental health service offers:

  • weekly peer support groups (they've facilitated over 375 so far)!
  • trauma-informed, culturally sensitive one-on-one counseling sessions (with 107 displaced people supported so far). 
  • multiple languages like english, arabic, farsi, and ukrainian
  • culturally and religiously relevant mental health support 🤝

as a predominantly remote organization, cob ensure that everyone has equal access to technology.

their digital inclusion program repurposes second-hand tech devices and redistributes them to those in need.

they're even piloting a one-on-one digital skills mentoring program in partnership with screen share uk to further empower their community. 🌐

their vision aligns perfectly with ours: connected communities where diversity is celebrated, and everyone has the tools they need to thrive.

so, it's no surprise that we're beyond excited for this partnership and the mutual growth it promises. 🎉

want to learn more? let's meet àine, english project co-ordinator and wafaa, arabic wellbeing facilitator to tell us a bit more about cob and their work… 

àine 👋

wafaa 🎉

🔮 looking ahead: the potential of our partnership with conversation over borders

as we embark on this journey, we're not just excited about what we can achieve together; we're committed to setting a new standard for what community partnerships like this can be.

🎨 community meshing

somos' model is genuinely innovative; subverting the structure of other online teaching platforms to put the power back into the hands of teachers and people of all nationalities and languages and actively championing indigenous and minoritized languages. 

what makes this partnership so exciting is our shared core values and drive to innovate for better. somos and conversation over borders hold deeply-rooted belief in the value of community-led and owned support, the protection of linguistic and cultural knowledge, grounding work in wellbeing, protecting the right to migrate and the importance of collaboration. 

this partnership opens up pathways of mutual learning, resource-sharing and benefits for the somos and conversation over borders communities. it strengthens our ability to be dynamic in reaching the needs of our community with imagination and connects us to a wider community of people and organisations who are aligned with our goals!

we stand in admiration of somos' commitment to embedding their values through the co-ownership model and we are honoured to be asked to work alongside them as a core community partner.

we can't wait for this new chapter and to see what the future holds!

colette batten-turner, founder & ceo, conversation over borders
  • we're excited about the potential for our communities to engage with and learn from one another. 
  • whether it's wellbeing support, language learning techniques or community engagement strategies, there's a lot of knowledge to be shared!

🤝 mutual support

  • from tech solutions to advocacy, we're committed to supporting each other in the very many areas where our missions intersect.

🧬 creating space for innovation

  • at somos, we believe there needs to be more unrestricted funding for grassroots projects to have room to innovate, experiment and work closely with the communities they know best.
  • the donations we provide to cob will be on an unrestricted basis and we can't wait to see how this helps fuel their incredible work.

 🎖️ setting a new standard for governance

  • we want to move past traditional csr, “charity of the year” initiatives that trickle along without any accountability. 
  • we hope equity and power sharing between grassroots groups leads to more justice focussed partnerships and governance structures.  

👋 join the mission: support conversation over borders in creating connected communities

we know what you’re thinking - how do i get involved and support cob? here’s the 411 from àine:

🗣️ volunteer to teach conversation classes

  • cob's flagship program is their one-to-one english conversation classes. 
  • you don't need to be a trained teacher to help out, and they provide all the teaching support and resources you'll need. 
  • the commitment is for a minimum of 16 weeks, with classes running in 8-week blocks. 
  • plus, they offer wellbeing support and safeguarding training to all volunteers. 
  • sign up here to volunteer.

🥣  try out an online cooking class!

cob community members frequently lead online cooking classes! it's a great way to engage in cultural exchange and learn something new 🥳

keep an eye on the cob instagram account (@conversationoverborders) for details!

a cob online cooking class in action!
a cob online cooking class in action!

💚 donate

cob are launching a new destitution fund designed to support refugees and asylum seekers as they navigate increasingly hostile policies in the uk.

make a donation today!

📣 check out, support & amplify their work

you can follow cob on insta at @conversationoverborders to keep up with their campaigns for just treatment and proper protection of refugees and asylum seekers.

keen to learn more? we'd really recommend checking out their 2022 impact report for a proper overview of all of their work! we'll also leave wafaa with the last word on what's like behind the scenes at cob... 

we're super grateful to have this opportunity to work with conversation over borders.

looking forward to sharing updates on this impact driven partnership with you soon!

stay tuned!

join somos 🚀 teach languages, co-own the platform!

🛠️ everything you need to build your online teaching business.

🎓 host communities, create, sell and teach classes & courses - all in one place!

🌱 champion language diversity, heritage languages, and language rights.

🤝 co-owners, not customers. earn shares in somos doing what you love.

find out more

welcome to somos 🚀... an edtech startup? sure, but more than that we're a social enterprise on a mission to create a first of its kind platform co-owned by language teachers...

at somos, we understand that language teachers, especially those teaching minoritized languages, need more platforms that truly value educators and promote linguistic diversity. 🌈  

we're here to build more than just tools for teaching - we want to be part of movements championing language, migrant & worker rights. ✊🏾

  all of our paid pricing plans offer paths to co-ownership in somos.  

why? we don't want customers, we're inviting co-owners who can help us build a new kind of platform and be rewarded fairly for doing so.  

as a co-owner in somos, you'll be a crucial part of a global community celebrating languages, peoples, cultures and fair pay for educators.    

we're aiming to give you the tools to make meaningful connections with students, fellow teachers, activists, and grassroots organizations, all while having the power to create and sell your own digital language products.

we want our mission to cut across not just everything we do but how we do it.   

along with co-ownership for teachers, we also have a community ownership programme for grassroots organisations and have put a unique entry-level hiring programme in place for refugees living in limbo.  

ready to transform your teaching and make a real difference? get on board and let's change the world of language learning together 🌍

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