I'm more of a multimedia consumer than an educator, but upon seeing a new telenovela with business-launching lessons, I started thinking: Why use workbooks and pens when serialized video can be introduced to adult students to create more engagement and better take home value?
A similar line of thinking led Oakland, Calif., organization Creating Economic Opportunities for Women (CEO Women) to create Grand Café, an educational video series that features four immigrant women helping each other grow their endeavors after meeting in a business start-up class. The characters speak English and their experiences are cataloged in a Latin Telenovela format, and the protagonists (including a jewelry maker from Haiti, a handywoman from Mexico, and an accountant from China) were based on the nonprofit's own immigrant and refugee entrepreneur clientele.
The first four episodes of the planned 18-part series are currently being rolled out in Oakland and San Jose with lessons on separating personal and business expenses, seeking out computer skills, and securing bank loans. (And, this being soap opera-esque, there's a love story thrown in.) CEO Women, whose main aim is helping women increase their business skills to become economically independent, is using the series to scale their current 16-week business training program, and at least 700 women have viewed the telenovela-as-curriculum since it launched in September.
The series and its taped questions for students are planned to be made available through online distribution, DVDs, and possible broadcast. It's a creative way to increase the more than 5 million women-owned microenterprises that the FIELD Microenterprise Fund estimates are currently operating domestically. Annie Mathews, who manages CEO Women's alumni business support services, said they have found blended classroom and home learning to be an effective way to reach women who are looking to grow their food, artisan, and import businesses while managing families and work.
The telenovela idea isn't rocket science--they've been successfully used in radio series promoting safe sex in Africa--but its inventive use for start-up and English as a Second Language education through the Grand Café deserves recognition (and replication):
- The blessing of leadership. At the premier screening for the series content, production company Media Factory said that CEO Women founder Farhana Huq gave the producers the green light to develop the series as they recommended, 18 episodes and all. Huq had seen the reach that telenovelas have in Latin America and thought they could be a powerful way to reach the more than 170,000 women in the Bay Area who could benefit from the organization's business training but couldn't attend classroom sessions. It sounds simple now that the series is front of students, but any producer will tell you that trust and shared vision from a high level make a major difference in creating a project of this length.