Digital Penfriendships between pupils and young refugees teach that we live on our planet together. Phileas enables schools worldwide to overcome borders to learn from each other.


Hundreds of millions are affected by droughts, extreme weather events, rising sea levels, wildfires and the destruction of nature. Climate change, like all environmental hazards, disproportionally hits developing countries. As is the case with war and political unrest, the worst-hit populations are often forced to leave their own country.

The less a society can relate to these people and their reasons, the more space is there for violence and destruction of the political dialog.

Politics in rich countries would look very different with more compassion for those affected by their policies, with climate change being the perfect example.

Smartphones are a game-changing technology.

The only way personal relationships between developing and developed countries could be built 20 years ago was through pen friendships (PLAN International).

Today, smartphones are a global commodity and create ample opportunity to overcome national borders.

Phileas uses WhatsApp to build relationships between pupils and young refugees. It’s a ready-to-use teaching module that connects classes directly with youths that had to flee their country. We collaborate with NGOs to build connections on the ground in refugee camps and provide teachers and pupils with conversation guidelines to make the most out of it. Trauma therapists and moderators are on standby to make sure the experience is beneficial to all participants.

Phileas’ Vision

Directly interacting with fellow humans living in refugee camps builds awareness for the fate of refugees, that we’re on this planet together and how politics impact people’s lives. Phileas helps pupils worldwide to become global citizens and take responsibility for the choices their society makes.

How it works

Participating pupils and refugees read the guidelines and an introductory call answers open questions. Each pupil then has a moderated video call with a refugee. We collect feedback and schedule follow-up conversations. We follow up with all participants later on to see if they stayed in touch.

A trustworthy platform

Phileas provides a safe and engaging communication environment. We co-created our communication guidelines with trauma therapists. These guidelines contain example questions, briefings on the participants’ countries and are of course open source. We guide participants early-on, collect feedback, and help nurture the relationships these young adults are developing. We believe communication is the key to fostering tolerance!


One of Imagine Zero’s core principles is to build solutions that scale. We’re currently running user tests and plan to grow Phileas into a self-service platform to overcome borders and make politics tangible.


  • Pupils can better relate to and appreciate the fates of refugees.
  • Awareness for the fate of refugees increases a pupil’s sense of accountability and empowers them to engage in politics or activism.
  • Teachers use Phileas as part of their education.
  • Conversations work without moderation (or we can crowdsource that).
  • Pupils and refugees perceive conversations as beneficial (and not emotionally harmful).
  • NGOs partner up with Phileas to connect us to refugees in camps
  • Pupils and teachers refer Phileas to others

Who else is in the space? 

Different initiatives cover the topic of one-time communication between young people on different sides of a border. Mostly it is done by letter or by postcard, like the UN program Letters of Love does. There are also projects already working with school classes, such as Letters of Hope. None of them are digital, however, which we believe would be more appealing to young adults because of the immediacy and closer contact it creates.

How we work together

  • At Imagine Zero
    • We work full-time and are responsive to your needs
    • We have daily standups
    • We use issue tracking to organize our work
  • If you want to manage this project, we want you to
    • Define clear commitments and communication preferences you can reasonably stick to
    • Decide what cadence suits you and the the rest of the team
    • Measure impact of existing coaching relationships.
    • Create a concept on how to scale this project to have more impact.
  • We all work for free.
  • We have access to possible donors and funds, talk to us!
  • We have good access to marketing, sales, business, legal, communication, design and software engineering experts. Make the best use of our network!

You can help by connecting

Have you worked with amazing people in the past who could help us stop the climate crisis? Connect us!

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