My work: helping immigrant and refugee women become more self-sufficient through ESL telenovelas
This profile was prepared when Farhana Huq was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.
The New Idea
Farhana founded Creating Economic Opportunities for Women (C.E.O. Women) to help refugee and immigrant women become more self-sufficient by teaching them English, communications and entrepreneurship skills through relevant novellas rather than dry textbooks. C.E.O. Women keeps its courses affordable and accessible to immigrant women of limited financial means by offering them in collaboration with public schools for adult education and with other community based organizations.Farhana and C.E.O. Women have brought two important functional innovations to the fields of vocational ESL and microenterprise. The first is to replace standard textbooks with educational novellas (soap operas) starring immigrant and refugee women entangled in issues of family, immigration, personal relationships, and business issues. The students relate to the characters and situations in novellas, and while doing so, they learn English and communication skills for running a business. In addition, every story includes lessons and a workbook about entrepreneurship and microenterprise. The second innovation is the design of the first “Entrepreneurial ESL” courses. When these women are exposed to the stories in the novellas, they begin internalizing important lessons about how to plan, start, and fund a new business. Unlike basic ESL or other vocational ESL courses, C.E.O. Women then works closely with its students on business basics, turning many would-be low-wage employees into employers and small business owners who will contribute far more to their families and communities.For this second innovation, Farhana was named one of three Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year National Finalists in the category of “Supporter of Entrepreneurship.” C.E.O. Women was the only citizen organization to make it to the final round. Even students who do not start businesses report a higher level of financial literacy, English proficiency, and self-confidence than if they had not taken the program.