Hand Talk 

Hand Talk’s Story

In a hospital emergency room in the northern Brazilian province of Alagoas, Doctor Davi Freitas was trying to communicate with an agitated 13-year-old girl. No one, including the girl’s mother, could figure out what was wrong because the girl was hearing impaired. Suddenly, Doctor Freitas remembered that he could ask Hugo.

Hugo is the virtual interpreter for Hand Talk, a Brazilian social enterprise that creates technology to offer automatic translation from spoken language into Libras, the Brazilian sign language. With Hugo’s help, Doctor Freitas was able to determine that his young patient had a terrible headache, which turned out to be a warning sign of intracranial bleeding, for which she was immediately and successfully treated.

Hugo can be found throughout Brazil, from hospital emergency rooms to classrooms to bars. With purposefully oversized hands and carefully designed, complex facial expressions, Hugo is a sign language interpreter you can take with you anywhere.

There are more than 360 million deaf people in the world, and 10 million in Brazil. Often, deaf people encounter difficulties with literacy, since the written language relies on phonetic learning. In Brazil, more than 70 per cent of deaf people have difficulty communicating in their native language. Founded in 2012, Hand Talk helps deaf people break down communication barriers that stand in the way of their education, inclusion and independence.

Hand Talk has been recognized with eight international and regional awards, including being chosen by the United Nations as “the best social app in the world.” Already, over 1 million people have downloaded the app and Hugo processes some 6 million translations every month. As Doctor Freitas discovered, the app has the potential to save lives in an emergency situation. More common, however, is its ability to improve lives by helping deaf people become active participants in society.


BeAnotherLab’s Story

We have all heard the old adage: before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes. But how, exactly, do you do that?

BeAnotherLab has an answer. A multinational group headquartered in Spain with nodes in ten other countries, BeAnotherLab unites artists, scientists, researchers, anthropologists and practitioners to help reduce implicit bias and promote empathy through virtual reality technology that creates an “embodiment” experience, the illusion of being in another person’s body and seeing the world through their eyes.

Their Machine to Be Another has been applied to art, conflict resolution, scientific research, social issues, healthcare and education in various public spaces in over 20 countries. At the 2015 United Nations General Assembly, delegates could see themselves in the body of Nicole Goodwin, an American poet and Iraq war veteran, while listening to her talk about the harm the war brought to her life. With the help of Oculus Rift headsets, first-person cameras, and synchronized movements, participants have even swapped genders. Others have experienced reality from the perspective of a person with physical disabilities; or a mother of a young black man murdered by police; or a Sudanese refugee at the Holot Detention Center in Israel. Following the experiment, participants meet in person to discuss the experiment and share their stories.

BeAnotherLab’s current focus is the Library of Ourselves, a long-term project that helps participants better understand themselves, by understanding others. Working through cultural and educational institutions around the world, BeAnotherLab offers its methodology and immersive virtual reality technology to create content, what they call “embodied storytelling,” and engage with different audiences in an effort to create transformative encounters between communities in conflict.

In a world that often divides us by our differences, BeAnotherLab wants to instead highlight our shared human experiences. As BeAnotherLab co-founder Philip Bertrand said, “More than individuals, we are part of a broader system called humanity.”


“Soliya is at the forefront of its field – harnessing technology as a bridge across differences to connect and engage young people. It is a young success story, already increasing empathy and understanding among its participants, and helping a new generation of leaders set foot into the world with a direct personal experience of the values of pluralism, and a commitment and capacity to confront its biggest challenges.”

Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada and Chair of the Global Pluralism Award Jury.

Soliya’s Story

At a moment in time before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, two forward-thinking founders recognized how sustained dialogue in the digital space could change the world — for good.

Soliya, a United States 501(c)3 not-for-profit headquartered in New York, was launched in 2003 by Lucas Welch and Liza Chambers as a response to the growing distrust in a post-September 11th society. Soliya pioneered a field that is now called Virtual Exchange, bringing together young people across cultures and continents in synchronous online dialogues that instill the skills to think critically, approach with curiosity and lead with empathy.

Guided today by chief executive Waidehi Gokhale, Soliya employs the Exchange Portal, a custom videoconferencing platform, through which its global team brings together over 5,000 young adults each year in small, diverse groups as part of the Connect Program. Discussing current events with trained facilitators, participants from the United States, Canada, Europe, Middle East, North Africa, and South and Southeast Asia learn that people’s identities are multi-dimensional. By voicing and listening to one another’s stories, they gain greater understanding and build empathy. 

By empowering individuals with the ability to engage with and across difference, Soliya helps future change-makers have the difficult conversations necessary to break cycles of bias. Soliya’s programs are helping participants to eliminate negative notions of ‘the other’ and to thrive in a 21st century society. To date, Soliya has worked with over 220 higher education institutions and learning centers in more than 30 countries and 29 of the United States to include programs for credit as part of existing classes across numerous disciplines. That footprint continues to expand with new partnerships. Soliya’s impact has been proven through measurement and evaluation collected in association with the Saxelab Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Annenberg School of Communication, University of Pennsylvania; Oxford Centre for the Study of Intergroup Conflict, University of Oxford; and University College London.

Nearly two decades after its inception, Soliya has shown itself to be more relevant than ever, as it bridges divides and builds strong, pluralistic societies. 

Research shows that a cross-cultural experience during an individual’s formative years can lead to more cooperative and compassionate relationships. However, accessibility is often an issue. Many young people around the world live in homogenous communities, and, due to socioeconomic, institutional, geographic or personal barriers, have limited opportunities to engage with different viewpoints or identities.  A meaningful cross-cultural exchange can drastically shift views of difference.

India Love Project

India Love Project’s Story

In a few hundred words, Aamir Fahim tells a sweeping love story. He describes the heady days of getting to know his now-wife, Arsheen Kaur, in a university classroom: “Our friendship became so interesting that the sun would set faster every day. Every night seemed like a week.” He writes about the difficulties they faced as an interfaith couple from Sikh and Muslim families: “In the eyes of the world, loving each other was a crime.” He says they spent months convincing family and friends to support their relationship. In 2017, they were married under the Special Marriage Act, a secular framework that allows people from different backgrounds to marry. 

The story of Aamir and Arsheen is one of hundreds on the Instagram account of the India Love Project. Launched in 2020 by three journalists, India Love Project is a response to the growing conservatism, religious polarization and intolerance towards inter-caste, interfaith and LGBTQ+ unions. The organization challenges exclusion by sharing positive stories of love and marriage outside of the traditional boundaries of faith, caste, ethnicity and gender. 

Non-traditional relationships are often strongly opposed in India, where over 90% of marriages are arranged, only about 5% are inter-caste and around 2% are interfaith. Same-sex relationships were only decriminalized in 2018, and marriage for same-sex partners remains illegal. While inter-caste marriages are on the rise, they are still frowned upon. In recent years, interfaith marriages have been criminalized in several states through “anti-conversion” laws based on Hindu nationalist accusations that Muslim men are marrying Hindu women only to convert them. This conspiracy is part of the rising intolerant rhetoric in India.  

India Love Project harnesses the power of social media to promote acceptance and dialogue. Their Instagram account shares real-life love stories to counter the narratives demonizing non-traditional unions. The initiative has received an outpouring of support. Online, and increasingly offline, the India Love Project is building safe spaces for couples to celebrate their love and find community. To support them further, the organization has begun connecting couples with pro bono lawyers and counsellors, since interfaith couples often face resistance in local courts.  

In a climate of growing intolerance and hateful rhetoric, India Love Project responds with love. One story at a time, the organization is affirming that love takes many forms and all loving relationships deserve to be celebrated. As Arsheen writes in response to her husband’s post, loving can be the most basic yet most courageous act. “To all those in love,” she writes, “keep loving!” 

Build Up

Build Up’s Story

Imagine a peacebuilding organization in Jordan wants to understand how polarization around religion and tradition is playing out on social media in their country. Are religious and traditional norms affecting how people express themselves? What terms are being used and by whom? For answers, the organization turns to Phoenix, an open-source social media analysis tool created by the non-profit organization, Build Up. 

Phoenix collects data from a hundred Facebook pages and Twitter handles. It organizes the data, anonymizes it, and classifies and labels it in a number of ways. For example, who made the post? A religious leader? A social media influencer? A governmental organization? Next, Phoenix arranges the data into graphs by engagement, sentiment and network. This helps identify patterns. Thanks to Phoenix, the Jordanian peacebuilding organization now has a deeper understanding of social media conversations about religion and tradition and, crucially, where there are opportunities to intervene.  

Phoenix is one of many tools created by Build Up, a global network of peace innovators who are using technology to build peace. 

Polarization is one of the most pressing issues around the world, and the digital space is a key contributor. Social media can fuel intense animosity between political groups. The algorithms promote divisive content that stirs up emotions and drives engagement. When this is combined with misinformation and micro-targeting—i.e. data-driven personalization—different online realities are created depending on who we are. This makes it much harder for different groups to find common ground. 

Build Up focuses on peacebuilding interventions that address hate speech and polarization by harnessing technologies to foster inclusive dialogue and social cohesion. It partners with organizations around the world to design and implement innovative technology-based solutions to conflict. Build Up’s work is extensive, ranging from helping an electoral commission in the Somali region create a WhatsApp bot to deliver voter education to remote communities, to supporting grassroots peacebuilding organizations to amplify the voices of youth and marginalized ethnic and religious groups. Other examples include online games that challenge stereotypes amongst Syrian youth, a chatbot that fights online misinformation in Myanmar, or digital consultations with women in Yemen to understand the gender dimensions of war. 

While digital technologies can be a threat to pluralism, Build Up has shown that innovative use of these same technologies can create countless opportunities for connection, collaboration and inclusion around the world.