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Social Entrepreneurship During COVID-19

Reflecting on the successes and failures of transitioning operations online.

Written by Lulu Li, Potencia Guest Blogger

Potencia was founded in early 2019, which means about a third of our existence has been during a pandemic. As a social startup built on community engagement, social distancing has posed an enormous challenge.

Engaging our tutors, our learners, and our team… virtually

Many of the tutors for summer teaching canceled their sessions when we moved remote. Suddenly, we only had half of the number of tutors than expected but with the same number of learners. The problem was that we recruited tutors who were not comfortable with remote teaching. Of course, this was not something we could foresee before March, but now we needed to adapt to the new normal.

Our learners also struggled to transition to online classes. Adapting to technology is already difficult, and many of our learners were in the middle of other significant changes in their lives.

As schools, restaurants, and shops closed many of our learners were suddenly forced to find new jobs. This caused many last-minute cancellations and rescheduling as interviews and new work schedules were prioritized.

As social entrepreneurs, we have to react to problems and work quickly to find solutions.

To understand the problems of our volunteer-based face, we interviewed volunteers and found that there was a demographic of potential tutors who were looking for remote opportunities after many canceled internships.

Reaching this new demographic meant adapting our marketing, and as a result, we recruited enough tutors to sustain 33 English classes a week. Every single class had trouble initially, but with time and patience, both the tutors and learners overcame these difficulties.

Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

We also brought in teams of passionate professionals to help us grow and learn as we adapt to these difficult times. This summer was our first cohort of interns who have laid foundations in business outreach, marketing, and curriculum development. The teams enabled us to strengthen relationships with different stakeholders while creating cohesive and structured lesson plans and training materials to tailor to an online setting.

2 Key Lessons Learned: Importance of Communication and Trust

Communication involves ourselves, our tutors, and our learners. When our operations were in-person, everyone used a lot of body language to express emotion, meaning, and intent with their words when there was a significant language barrier.

Our transition was full of misunderstandings and cultural differences, and we began to understand how communicating effectively means more than just meetings, updates, and messages. Potencia is beyond just teaching English, our goal is to leverage the power of human connections to make our communities a better place to live. It is not enough to just transition classes online, but we also need to create an engaging and empowering environment. Virtually.

With even more limited means of communication we had with our learners, we focused on building trust individually. We strived to listen to their voices and understand their situations to make the classes as flexible as possible. As we built trust, they started to introduce us to their friends, neighbors, and even family members. We were able to make a larger impact.

Regardless of whether we are hosting classes remotely or in-person, we still need to develop that personal connection with people. Our learners use our classes to build confidence and express themselves. Tutors leave our program seeing the world through a different lens. For everyone to unleash their potential, we need to engage these human connections within the community.

The value is still the same: put yourself out there, talk with people, get their feedback, and understand them.

The only difference now is that we just need to find new ways to engage with others.

Continuously Adapting for the Future

With all of the challenges we’ve faced with remote learning, we hope to engage both in-person and online classes with a hybrid model.

Many of our tutors and learners have expressed how much they miss in-person classes. It creates an environment to engage with other cultures, create a community, and express ourselves in ways that don’t always involve a spoken language.

But in-person classes have its challenges too. Many learners are restricted by limited transportation access to travel to classes. College students and graduates moving back home are no longer in the area.

COVID gave us a different perspective on how to view challenges. Transitioning online was challenging but we wouldn’t have tried it otherwise. Many tutors and learners who expressed concerns initially, later found out that online classes are better than they thought and some even liked them more than in-person ones.

Don’t be afraid to fail and make mistakes. There will always be difficult times, whether it’s a pandemic or competition season. But challenges can also be opportunities. We believe that it is crucial to keep the belief in what you are doing and find ways to make it through because there will always be a way.

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