Conversations Unbound is a non-profit that provides livelihood support for forcibly displaced people, while also meaningfully engaging students in the global issue of forced displacement. During the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, CU was started by students as part of Vassar Refugee Solidarity at Vassar College. Through collaborations with students, alumni, and professors, CU has grown into an independent non-profit that is run entirely by volunteers. CU helps tutors find individual students, as well as partners with universities that integrate the tutors, dubbed "conversation partners" into their curriculum. Universities pay $15 USD per hour for language tutoring plus a 12% service fee covering payment transfer and operating costs. CU maintains an online platform for conversation partners to receive payments and schedule lesson times. Sessions are then conducted over an online platform they prefer. This allows CU to work with conversation partners in different countries, which is especially helpful for tutors that are relocating or in transition. By highlighting tutors’ unique experiences and skill sets, CU is reversing the traditional giver and receiver relationship with refugees being the knowledge producer and provider.
Theory of Change
Facilitating involvement of displaced people in online language exchange services provides them with economic opportunities, reversing traditional power dynamics in humanitarian aid and cultivating cross-culture awareness.
CU provides a robust educational experience for students to improve their foreign language skills, engage in rich, cross-cultural dialogue, and think critically about forced displacement. The academic disciplines covered include Arabic, French, Spanish, Middle Eastern studies, Latin American studies, Africana studies, Francophone studies, German studies, and Migration and Displacement. The one-on-one conversations allow CU students and tutors to find commonalities while learning to appreciate and respect their differences. For the tutors, besides the platform connecting them to a stream of students to teach, CU also provides training, enabling them to develop their skills as independent online language tutors and build new careers.
As of 2023, CU works with 33 tutors from Syria, Iraq, Mexico, Venezuela, the U.S., Burkina Faso, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over half of the tutors are women, in keeping with their efforts to improve access to economic opportunities for women. Over 1,550 students have used CU, completing over 10,600 lessons, and tutors have earned over $100,000 USD. Through the program, some tutors have gone on to earn enough income for CU to become their full time job. The reach of the organization has also grown to include partnerships with Vassar College, Ohio State university, Michigan State, Yale University, Casco Bay High School, and University of Redlands.