Member Spotlight: Aliim

1 years ago


Janae Bushman



Why did you really start your organization? Who are you?

Echoes From a Lost Generation, Janae’s Grandmother after surviving the atomic bomb in Hiroshima at age 12. My Japanese grandmother spent the rest of her school days helping to rebuild the city. This left her with no options for continuing her education and no skills beyond menial labor. Her eyes tell the story of shame and regret that many individuals who miss out on a basic education carry for the rest of their lives. I can't turn back time and I can't take my grandmother's pain away or the millions that are part of a lost generation, but I can make sure that future generations can find hope and resilience through education, despite the atrocities of war.

Aliim believes that if thousands of refugees cannot come to school, we must bring school to them.

My family taught me to value education. However, my passion for education in the Middle East came after reading a 2007 Newsweek article about post­war education in Iraq. This article clearly depicted to me how social and economic impacts of education are amplified in conflict­-affected countries and how expanding access to education to all youth is imperative to rebuilding societies. I have since dedicate my life to helping youth claim their right to education despite war and provide them with liberties that my grandmother and millions of others lack.

What are you working on?

Aliim is a non-profit organization whose mission is to leverage technology and mentors to provide refugees and marginalized youth access to safe, quality, and relevant education.

Aliim’s Smartphone Schools Program is the first mobile learning program that aims to empower Syrian refugee children living in the Levant or migrating to other regions of the world, to continue their education and access better life opportunities through technology and a global network of mentors. Students can access the program's learning content through an application, with on-line and off-line functionality. If successful, our program model can also be tailored to other conflict or emergency contexts.

Education is more than a fundamental human right. It is essential to the exercise of all other human rights. By also providing children with the right tools to understand the world they live in and empowering them to fully and positively take part in the society, education is crucial to achieving global goals.

At Aliim, we believe that education is the key to a better world. In the specific context of the Syrian crisis, education can mitigate some of the risks that refugees face, especially girls. Safe learning environments can protect them from getting trapped in cheap labor or early marriage and empower them to stand for their rights.

According to UNESCO, the global number of out­-of-­school children is 57.8 million. A lack of education inhibits global development, and exposes children to abuse and poverty. Currently, 50% of nearly 1 million Syrian refugee children are not in school, which is largely due to insufficient capacity of schools to accommodate refugees (UNHCR). Scalable mobile learning programs will complement traditional schools in addressing the global issue of millions of children missing out on an education.

Our Smartphone Schools Program is not only about giving out-of-school Syrian children the chance to acquire crucial knowledge and encouraging them to study further. It aims at empowering the next generation of Syrians, especially girls, to have a positive impact on their new community within their country of asylum. It also prepares youth to become active contributors to both the local and global economy, and eventually participate in reconstructing Syria when the war is over.

To reach these goals, and based on the results of our needs assessment, we designed our curriculum to include relevant skills, special learning features, and a series of innovative pedagogical tools to make our program unique.

The University of Utah Master of Public Administration students have been helping us develop our mentor network. Our Smartphone Schools program includes interaction with an international network of mentors who will accompany students throughout the programs, answering their questions, and making sure they are on track to completing the mobile learning program. Using mobile technology, our mentors can live anywhere in the world. We believe that mentoring is an essential aspect of the program. By giving children the opportunity to obtain the support they need from people all around the world, we intend to create a real community, allowing them to get guidance to help them integrate into their new communities peacefully and become productive members of society.

Aliim’s mobile learning approach is bold because we can scale quickly and cost effectively in conflict-­affected countries. Current options have limited reach and capacity, often leaving behind those who are marginalized. Our Smartphone Schools program allows us to rapidly get Syrian refugees up to speed with their peers in the host country, which will allow them to rejoin formal education without repeating grade levels.

How did you start to establish your idea?

During grad school, I helped evaluate an afterschool program in the Dominican Republic using survey apps on smartphones, which inspired me to devise other uses for this technology like evaluating the education levels of Iraqi youth who fled to Jordan without school certificates. This later evolved to educating refugees through smartphones in a brainstorming session with a friend.

What about entrepreneurship interests you?

I found that traditional routes in development are too bureaucratic and resistant to change. Because of this, there are so many inefficiencies in the way funds are distributed and the solutions are not sustainable. If we have the technology and the opportunity to create sustainable solutions, why should we wait for long-established organizations to get on board and open up to forward-thinking solutions? I believe that social entrepreneurship allows for the democratization of service to our fellow human beings.

Why did you come to Sustainable Startups?  What has been your greatest take away from being in the Sustainable Startup cohort course thus far? 

Sustainable Startups provides me with a channel for accountability, which helps me to progress further and more effectively on our goals. The weekly management reports help me to get great feedback on my approach to fulfilling our mission. It's like having an instant board of Advisors that are invested without having ulterior motives. 


To learn more about Aliim! 

Official Website:

CNN Video: App provides education for migrants on the move

SlideShare : Aliim smartphone schools contextualizing mobile learning for Syrian refugee girls

UNESCO Presentation: Contextualizing mobile learning programs to improve access to education among Syrian refugee girls

CNBC Article: Technology and smartphones could help to educate refugees

Janea Bushman LinkedIn: