In our #FounderFriday blogs, we introduce you to our founders. What is a SPEAK founder? A founder is someone who took SPEAK to their city. With the goal to make this city a place where everyone feels at home and where diversity is championed. Today we give you the chance to meet Narmin who is the founder of SPEAK Kaunas and SPEAK Vilnius, both cities in Lithuania.
Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Narmin, 27 years old and I’m the founder of SPEAK Lithuania. Originally I’m from Azerbaijan, but I live in Kaunas. I graduated with a Master of Science in Informatics from Kaunas Technology University. I came to Lithuania around 9 years ago for studies. After finishing my master’s I started working with SPEAK activities and since then I stayed here. We’re currently in Kaunas and Vilnius.
Why did you become a SPEAK founder?
I did an internship in Portugal at the SPEAK headquarters in 2016. When I was studying for my bachelor’s I went for a summer internship, just for two months. Through attending a SPEAK event I got to meet some people. With some of them, we’re still in contact even though we’re in different parts of the world.
I found the mission of SPEAK quite relevant and I thought it would be very useful in the city I live in as well. After seeing the TSTYC program appear, I was thinking: ‘Maybe we can give it a try, we can just see if it would work in the city. I started to talk with the team in 2019, but most of the activities started in 2020.
We started in Kaunas at the beginning of 2020 as it was a city that was more familiar to me. This year, we extended to Vilnius as well. Because one of our current partners, International House Vilnius, got in contact with me, and they wanted to have the SPEAK experience in their place for internationals. International House Vilnius is in the same building as the municipality, it’s a new place with the concept of helping foreigners moving to Vilnius settle easier. Until now it’s been going well, so we are working on scaling the project.
Tell us about the first time you ran a language group in your city – how was it?
I have never been a buddy myself. One of the first ones was run by Marius, who used to be one of the developers in SPEAK. We opened an offline Lithuanian language group, I was also a participant because I wanted to improve my Lithuanian. That was also one of my struggles: I couldn’t find places where I could practice the language. Creating something in the city where I could also participate was very nice.
I have improved my Lithuanian, it’s a hard language (most people will agree with me I guess). I try to use it in my daily life, as much as I can. But of course, I can not say that I’m fluent. So since there is availability, I also attend other SPEAK conversational groups.
What is the most rewarding part about being a SPEAK founder?
For me, the most rewarding part is receiving random messages of thank you from either buddies or participants. Because of course, it’s not about just languages, it’s about relationships and friendships. People who participate in SPEAK also make new friends. You see buddies and participants travelling together to other places, doing activities together like going to concerts and cooking together. And you feel like: you played a part in connecting them and it continues.
What was the biggest challenge you faced, and how did you overcome it?
A lot of things can be challenging in general. When you’re alone, you don’t have the full skill set that you need on specific occasions. Of course, skills can be self-taught or you can learn them, but you’re not born with them and then also don’t have team members who can take over that part. Sometimes you have to do tasks that you’re not fully capable of. You can do it, but it will take more time for you to solve it.
There are some volunteers who are helping us, but expanding the team is one of the main goals. It would be helpful to have more team members for SPEAK Lithuania, to support the project. If you are interested in supporting SPEAK Lithuania, feel free to send me an email.
What impact has SPEAK had on your community?
Since the beginning, we have organised more than 70 language groups in Kaunas and 12 language groups in Vilnius, and currently, we are opening more language groups. So that means together we have almost 90 language groups taking place in both cities in Lithuania. This means that around 1,000 people have participated in our language groups or events. We have managed to connect with a lot of people. Of course, we can’t know what is happening in each group. But we know that people are having fun based on the feedback we receive.
We also have helped some refugees who are living in remote locations. We help them with online groups so that they can socialize through their devices. At the moment, we’re helping through SPEAK For Ukraine. There are a lot of refugees from Ukraine, Belarus, or from Russia that really need this kind of place where they get to know their first local friends and get to know about their new local culture and language. Also, they get to meet new people.
Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
One I would say is the Nowruz event in March 2022. It was a really successful event where we managed to bring the community members together. Nowruz is a Persian New Year, that is celebrated by several countries and cultures. We had communities from Afghanistan, refugees from there, and also communities from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. They were all participating in this event. We were all around the fire, it was really nice.
Another thing I would say is the moment when I realized as an organization, as a social business we are integrating into the Lithuanian social business world. We were invited to speak at a conference in Strassburg, France called “Social Economy, the future of Europe” which was organised by the European Commission in cooperation with the French Ministry of Economy. This was a proud moment to go to represent Lithuania in this social economy conference as SPEAK Lithuania.
How has being a SPEAK founder impacted your life?
I have learned a lot while building SPEAK Lithuania. I had some other initiatives before, but on this scale, it’s the first time. It was scary and challenging in the beginning, and at some points it still is. You learn, because you also have the SPEAK central team and founders from other cities, so it’s really interesting to always meet and discuss to see what is going on in other cities and what common practices can be shared and replicated in each city just to make it even better.
What kinds of relationships/connections have you built with your community?
You meet a lot of interesting people from different countries. Personally, I have gained a lot of new friends. We meet, do activities, go to festivals, and also travel to other cities together. It’s always nice to know that you belong to the community in the city you live.
What does social inclusion mean to you?
It’s hard to describe in one word, but I’m now remembering the emotions and feelings that there were when you felt socially isolated. For me, it was quite hard to socialize when I came to Lithuania. I was 17/18 years old and it was really hard for me to meet new people.
Social inclusion is something that I think everyone needs. It has to be available for every person, whatever their background is. Even introverted people really need social contact. We had one participant, who said SPEAK was the perfect place for introverts like himself. He’s really hanging out with his group a lot after he joined SPEAK. That’s what social inclusion means to me.
Support SPEAK Lithuania
As mentioned before, SPEAK Lituania is helping refugees from Ukraine who entered Lithuania due to the current conflict, helping them settle and integrate into their new local communities.
Do you want to help them to scale impact and reach more people who can benefit from our SPEAK community the most? Support them in their crowdfunding campaign.
Do you want to meet more people from the SPEAK Lithuania community? Meet The Ukrainian Helping Migrants & Refugees Integrate Into Lithuania. Interested in knowing more about Lithuania as a country? Visit Lithuania Through the Eyes of a Spanish Traveler.