Monday, February 9, 2015

Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities

by Ann Abbott

I love teaching "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities." I focus the course on social entrepreneurship, I teach them basic business principles, we analyze them at work in specific nonprofit examples, and we focus on doing all of this in linguistically and culturally appropriate ways.

Here's the syllabus for "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities."

On our first day of class this semester, I covered many of the fundamental elements of the course.

Community service learning + social entrepreneurship

The students in the course should already be familiar with community service learning, because the prerequisite for this course is "Spanish in the Community." So they still need to work 28 hours during the semester with a community partner, but in class the academic content focuses on social entrepreneurship.

Community service learning

Despite the prerequisite, I always have students signed up for my course who haven't taken Spanish in the Community. This semester, about two thirds of the students hadn't taken Spanish in the Community! That's a shame, because that course really provides a solid foundation, a real understanding of immigration issues, an up-close knowledge of our local Latino community. 

So I formed student groups--each student who had taken "Spanish in the Community" was matched up with students who hadn't. The "expert" had to explain to the others what they had learned in that course and give advice to the other students. Some of the advice was very practical, like where to work, how to get there, how to get your 28 hours in, etc. And that's good. The other students had to ask questions. As always, I told students exactly how long they had to talk (it was probably five minutes, but I don't remember right now), and made sure they talked that whole time.

Social entrepreneurship/Emprendimiento Social

Then I turned to the academic content of our course: social entrepreneurship/emprendimiento social. I emphasized that I want them to learn about entrepreneurship this semester as a process, not just a product. In other words, if we focus on the final outcome--a new business/product/organization/program/etc.--we are missing out on the vital process that leads to that final product. Or not. Maybe it there will be no final product. Maybe the process will end in failure. But going through the process itself is entrepreneurship. Is entrepreneurial. It is a mindset, more than a product that I want them to walk away with.

The entrepreneurship process

So what does that process consist of? Three steps.
  1. Reconocer oportunidades. I always tell students that many opportunities are hidden within problems. If you can solve people's problems, then you have a good entrepreneurial opportunity. I also emphasize that they can recognize problems that non-Spanish speakers will never see.
  2. Buscar recursos. Even though we often think first about money when we talk about entrepreneurship, I want students to know that there are so many other resources that they can acquire and use. Trust. Spanish. Friendships. A good reputation. A degree from the University of Illinois. And so much more.
  3. Crear algo de valor. First you must "create." Entrepreneurship isn't just about ideas. Lots of people have lots of ideas. You have to do. To create. To prototype. To launch. To try. To fail. To redesign/rethink. To get to the end point. And secondly, it must be something that other people value. If you create something because you are enchanted by it, but you don't bother to see if other people want it, you are in trouble. Other people have to think that your product/service brings them value. Listen. Observe. Ask. Then you'll be sure you are creating something that people will actually purchase and/or use.

Combine CSL and social entrepreneurship

When we put these two things together--CSL with its deepening understanding of our local Latino Community and social entrepreneurship--we end up with something very special. Something very localized. Something very attuned to a tightly defined target market. 

Our programs and services will be linguistically-appropriate. That might be Spanish. That might be English. It might be Spanglish. And in the Champaign-Urbana, that might be Q’anjob’al.

They will be culturally-appropriate. They will be offered in a convenient location for that community. In a trusted location because there is a lot of mistrust in our most vulnerable communities. They will be offered at a time that is convenient. There will be free babysitting if the community has many young children. Etc.


That is as much as I could squeeze in during one class period. This is not your regular Spanish class. Students need to be told explicitly what the expectations are, the reasons why we do them, and what the results will be (can be). The first class of the semester is always tough. You have to set them up for success--and I always like to show them what a typical class will be like. Participatory. Engaging. Active. 

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