Students in San Antonio and Benghazi Solve Global Challenges
Culturingua's Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey
Through Culturingua’s Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey, high school students created a social enterprise idea that addresses a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal, developing critical 21st century skills including cross-cultural collaboration and innovation. Throughout the program, students built bonds of friendship through food, heritage, and language.
When Xitlalih and Angelica first signed up for Culturingua’s Global Social Entrepreneurship Program through their social studies classes at Edison and Lanier High School in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., they were nervous but excited. Xitlalih knew she wanted to connect to others culturally, but couldn’t quite fathom what it would be like to work with students across the world to solve a global problem.
On the other side of the world in Benghazi, Libya, Zakaria and Muhanad, who were participating in the same program through their English classes at the Benghazi Center for the Gifted, experienced the same feelings. “This was my first time to talk to native English speakers,” Zakaria recalled, reflecting on the nervousness he felt before the program started. Muhanad shared similar feelings: “Yes, it’s scary at first, I’m not going to lie, it is scary. And it’s kind of daunting.”
They and their 45 American classmates at high schools throughout San Antonio Independent School District and 55 Libyan classmates at high schools throughout the Libyan National Board for Nurturing the Gifted and Talented were about to embark on the Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey from September to November 2021. Participants develop a social enterprise idea that solves a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal, encouraging them to adopt an innovative, entrepreneurial mindset to solve real-world problems.
Muhanad, Xitlalih, and three other teammates chose to work on Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Their group decided to create a solution to the pollution experienced in the Ganges River in India. “We decided on the Ganges because it was really interesting; it had a lot of elements that affected its pollution,” Xitlalih said. “We realized that the best way to help was to sell purified water, and then with the revenue, create a fertilizer that we can get farmers to move into a more organic way of farming and so we can lessen other main pollutants.”
Angelica, Zakaria, and two other teammates worked together on the same Sustainable Development Goal, Clean Water and Sanitation. They devised a solution to bring clean water to a refugee camp in Nigeria by boring more holes and installing filtration systems. “We really wanted to focus on something small, and we did research and found out that they were actually going through a war over there,” Angelica said. “It really hit home to the people who are in Libya, and they really wanted to focus on that and help out,” as she reflected on her Libyan peers’ recent experiences living through a civil war themselves.
To create their social enterprise idea, students worked both synchronously and asynchronously with their peers. The eight-hour time difference of their synchronous meetings made them realize the size of the world. “Our Zoom meetings are from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.,” Muhanad said. “And for them, it’s the first lesson in school. So, it just gives you the feeling of wow, this world is big. It’s morning for them, it’s afternoon for us, and we’re talking live.”
"The skill that I learned in addition to how to solve problems is how to deal with someone from a foreign country. This was my first time to talk to native English speakers. They helped me a lot, and I learned how they think, search, and find solutions. I enjoyed the process of working on the project.”
Zakaria, Participant, Culturingua's Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey
In addition to learning how to work across time zones, students learned cross-cultural collaboration skills. “The skill that I learned in addition to how to solve problems is how to deal with someone from a foreign country. This was my first time to talk to native English speakers. They helped me a lot, and I learned how they think, search, and find solutions. I enjoyed the process of working on the project,” Zakaria said, reflecting on his experience.
In order to find those solutions, students were guided to rapidly brainstorm various ideas and encouraged to try new and innovative solutions, traits that are critical for successful entrepreneurs. “We worked on this project in a trial-and-error way. We would think of a solution and then we think about it more: if it suits the country and the population and if it is reasonable. Can we actually do it? Have there been other attempts to do the same thing in the past? And we would just compare and contrast between different kinds of solutions, until we came up with the one that we put in our project,” said Muhanad.
Throughout the virtual exchange, students also built bonds by sharing about their food, heritage, and language. “Even though we all had different hobbies and interests and were from different cultural backgrounds, there was really this sort of connection that was there,” Xitlalih said. “I found a lot of interesting facts about them, like Muhanad could speak Spanish. I never expected that.”
The communication over months as they built their social enterprise solutions allowed them to build deeper relationships with their international classmates. “It broadens your horizon, your perspective,” Muhanad said. “I’m talking with them over a period of weeks and months. It builds this bond.”
Students presented their solutions to a panel of American and Libyan judges. Christina Martinez, Executive Director of The Dee Howard Foundation and San Antonio Independent School District Board President, reflected on her experience as a judge. “I was so proud watching our high school students use industry-standard technology to create business concepts with partners across the world. This opportunity makes them more competitive to learn and work in a global economy. In addition to that, we know that immersive cultural experiences help build emotional intelligence and empathy, skills that are very much needed in our 21st century society.”
“I was so proud watching our high school students use industry-standard technology to create business concepts with partners across the world. This opportunity makes them more competitive to learn and work in a global economy. In addition to that, we know that immersive cultural experiences help build emotional intelligence and empathy, skills that are very much needed in our 21st century society.”
Christina Martinez, San Antonio Independent School District Board President, Culturingua's Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey
At the conclusion of their program, students earned a Social Entrepreneurship digital micro credential badge that they display on their newly created LinkedIn profiles, as well as invaluable cross-cultural communication and collaboration skills.
Muhanad reflected on how the world of entrepreneurship was opened to him through the program. “I realized that being an entrepreneur, independent, and being able to think independently is something that I can actually do for the rest of my life. Entrepreneurship is like a big umbrella; you can do anything if you are an entrepreneur.” Regardless of students’ future aspirations, they gained skills that are transferable to any career. “There are so many skills and so many things that I’ve learned from the program that I can use anywhere, whether it’s how to communicate with others, debating or coming to a decision or working together or even just learning from other people and their culture and finding out the similarities that exist,” Xitlalih said.
But most of all, it begins with that first step of not being afraid to join the program: “I learned not to be afraid to go into new things and try them. I was kind of nervous going into this, and I feel like if I hadn’t gotten over that, I wouldn’t have that experience,” Xitlalih said. Muhanad concurred, “You have to take that step; you have to put that effort in to make a change to yourself.”
“There are so many skills and so many things that I’ve learned from the program that I can use anywhere, whether it’s how to communicate with others, debating or coming to a decision or working together or even just learning from other people and their culture and finding out the similarities that exist."
Xitlalih, Participant, Culturingua's Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey
Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey is implemented by Culturingua and is supported by the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI). JCSVEI is a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.