Thursday, February 16, 2012

Facebook Groups as a Culturally-appropriate Way of Communicating with the Community

by Ann Abbott

I feel sure that my ¨Spanish and Social Entrepreneurship¨ students have really understood the two basic components of a social enterprise (1. create social value; 2. generate income for economic sustainability). Now I have begun to move on to the second "big concept" of the course: how to create linguistically and culturally appropriate programming.

This is hard! We all see things through our own cultural filter. But when you work in human services and in the nonprofit world, you need to know your stakeholders very, very well.

Here are some of the highlights from today's class:

1. Localization. The old way of approaching international development and nonprofit programming was for the "elites" (in whatever way) to both define a community's problems and decide the solutions to those problems. The trend now is to partner with communities as they define their own challenges and solutions. As a very simple example of why the first approach doesn't work, I told the students about Italians who went to a village in Africa to drill a well. The people in the community had the habit of dropping stones into wells to listen and check on the water depth. After a while, the accumulation of stones stopped the mechanics of the well and it was abandoned by the townspeople. The "solution" did not consider the cultural practices of the service recipients.

2. Videos on Facebook. We looked at the video that one of the students posted to a Facebook Group for our local Latino community. The video was an interview in Spanish with a elementary school teacher. It was about 1 minute long. The student asked two questions: 1) what is the importance of parent-teacher conferences, and 2) what are some questions parents might ask the teacher. Students then analyzed ways in which that video was culturally appropriate.

  • It was in Spanish.
  • As a video, the information was accessible even to people with low literacy.
  • It was short and easily viewed on a smart phone. (Research shows that many US Latinos access the web from their cell phones in lieu of a home computer with internet access.)
  • The information it expressed could be helpful to parents who might come from a place where parent-teacher conferences are not a cultural practice.
  • The video was posted in a private Facebook group, and because we work with vulnerable community members, this protects their identities.
  • The Facebook group was created by a community member, so it is an example of #1 from above--a community-defined problem and solution (it fulfills the need for a centralized place to disperse information in Spanish).
3. Latin American social entrepreneurs. We then looked at examples of social entrepreneurs from Latin America who take a locally-defined problem and solve it in culturally-appropriate ways. (You can find the fun Ashoka activity on a previous post.)  Once students paired up--the "problema" found its "estrategia"--, they then analyzed their case for evidence of how it is localized solution to a locally-defined program. In other words, how does the solution show a deep knowledge of the culture of the service recipients? Students posted their answers to our class's Facebook page. (Students learned a new word during this phase of the lesson: autóctono; autochthonous.)

4. Our own Facebook videos. After class was over, two students volunteered to be in very short videos telling parents that they plan to interpret at the parent-teacher conferences at a local high school. I posted them to the private Facebook group for our local Latinos (I am a member of the group with posting privileges), and I am posting them here for you to see, too!

We will continue to explore the concept of linguistically and culturally appropriate programming throughout the semester. Students' community service learning helps them understand the Champaign-Urbana Spanish-speaking immigrant community, but it is just a start.

Do you have examples of social entrepreneurship gone astray? Good intentions that were not linguistically or culturally appropriate? Do you have examples of nonprofits or development programs that do a good job of integrating the cultural perspectives and practices of the service recipients? Please share in a comment!

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