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.

At the same time Xenophobia and racism are becoming more visible and dangerous. Right-wing terror attacks against various targets have been heavily present in German media over the last 18 months. In contrast, refugee camps have outgrown their already overstretched capacity, and the Covid crisis makes the situation unbearable, but media coverage of the subject is low. As a consequence, the dire fates of refugees drifted off people’s minds. Therefore, it is all the more important to make them visible again.

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

Global Connections

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

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

Smartphones are a game-changing technology.

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 with Phileas answers open questions and gives an overview of what will happen. Each pupil then has a (video) call with a refugee to get to know each other. We collect feedback and 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
    • reduces their prejudices.
  • In the long term participants engage more for social causes.
  • Teachers use Phileas as part of their education.
  • Conversations work without moderation (or we can crowdsource that).
  • Pupils and refugees perceive conversations as beneficial.
  • Almost no conversations are 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.

Take this further

  • Be part of our working group!
    • Connect to NGOs and Schools
    • Interact with project participants
    • Work on our online presence
    • Design!
    • Create a monitoring concept
    • …and more

How we work together

  • At Phileas
    • We work responsive to your needs
    • We have weekly meetings
    • We work in topic specific groups and self organized
    • We all work for free
  • 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

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