Founders: Atif Javed, Aziz Alghunaim, Sara Haj-Hassan
Location: Pennsylvania, United States
The problem: Refugees face language barriers when accessing services.
The solution: Volunteer on-demand translation and interpretation services to help refugees get help when settling in new countries.
Tarjimly is an award-winning US-based nonprofit working to eliminate humanitarian language barriers to improve the lives of refugees and immigrants.
Its AI-powered mobile app matches refugees with a network of 55,000 volunteer translators and interpreters to offer them support in more than 175 languages.
Tarjimly (which in Arabic means “translate for me”) was launched in 2017 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the so-called 'US Muslim Ban', an Executive Order limiting the entry of people into the US from majority Muslim countries.
According to the UN, there more than 35 million refugees globally, and a significant number face language barriers when seeking help.
Tarjimly, which is used by both refugees and the humanitarian organisations and NGOs supporting them, also translates documents, and provides legal, medical, and mental health resources.
“Forty four percent of refugees can’t communicate in host countries, or with people trying to help them, because of language barriers," explains Atif Javed, a co-founder of Tarjimly.
And the MIT graduate adds: “Seventy five percent of social service providers reported poor access to interpretation. This shamefully leads to denial of service, discrimination, errors, confusion, and ultimately adverse outcomes.”
Javed’s passion is based on personal experience of being relied upon to translate for his grandmother, who moved from India to Pakistan during partition and then to the UK before ending up in the US.
“My grandmother is the reason I went to volunteer in refugee camps in Greece and Turkey,” the 30-year-old explains. “There, I met women just like her from 20 different countries, all struggling just to communicate. That’s when I learned that language was the foundation for every human need.”
By providing free language services, Tarjimly reduces humanitarian response time and promotes equal access to essential services. It also makes up for the shortage of in-person translators and interpreters.
Existing online translation services are not yet advanced enough to perform this role, but Tarjimly is looking to fill this gap by deploying an AI-matching algorithm to optimise the speed, quality and expertise of its volunteer translators.
“We have essentially merged two powerful solutions: community and technology. We enabled the world’s three billion bilinguals to serve as micro-volunteers for these 35 million refugees,” says Javed.
To-date, Tarjimly has 55,000 registered volunteer translators registered. It is about to cross 100,000 translation sessions and is on track to hit one million by 2025. In the last five years, the app has helped more than 360,000 refugees with translation services.
The organisation is mostly funded by NGO contracts, which in 2023, brought in revenues of US$250,000. Other partners include the Refugee Assistance Alliance, Blackrock, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Boeing, and the UPS Foundation.
In 2022, Tarjimly was awarded the AI Prize for Humanity at MIT Solve and Javed was the 2023 winner of the Elevate Prize.