Turning Tutors into Entrepreneurs
A Google search of the phrase, “learn Spanish online” returns 36,600,000 results. Changing the search to, “fair trade Spanish language instruction” reduces the number to 1,050,000. At the top of the list is Speak Shop, an online company that “makes it easy for Spanish students all over the world to benefit from one-on-one tutoring with experienced instructors who are native to and living in a Spanish-speaking country,” while at the same time “improves the lives of language tutors and students and fosters intercultural understanding and respect.”
The idea is brilliantly simple. Speak Shop uses the Internet to connect high quality native speaking language instructors (many have master’s degrees) in countries such as Guatemala and Nicaragua to students all over the world who want to learn to speak Spanish. The idea is to have immersion-level instruction without having to travel. At the same time, the tutors receive a fair wage for their work.
Employing a fair trade model to this business is an interesting alternative to some of the microfinance efforts employed elsewhere to try to improve the living conditions of workers. According to a recent article in Stanford Social Innovation Review, the founders of Speak Shop, Clay and Cindy Cooper, “created what is in effect a Fair Trade service company that allows teachers to set their own rates and their own hours. Speak Shop simply provides the technical framework - the Web conferencing, the online scheduling interface, and IT support - along with marketing. ‘The tutors are not our employees,’ emphasizes Cindy Cooper. ‘They work for the students.’”
Speak Shop goes a step further for folks who are interested in making a greater difference. On their website they offer several ways to help:
• Take lessons - simple and good for you too
• Go to http://del.icio.us/ search for “Speak Shop” and save it as a favorite
• Sponsor a tutor’s U.S. teaching certification to make her more marketable (approximately US$140)*
• Visit the tutors in Guatemala and take lessons in person at PROBIGUA
• Tell a friend
• Print and post a Speak Shop flyer
What a perfect use of the World Wide Web: creating a marketplace, giving access to global services to anyone with an Internet connection, and addressing social ills all at the same time! But don’t take my word for it that this is a fantastic idea. Speak Shop has received much media attention and many awards since its launch in January 2005, including:
• 2006 Innotech Innovation Award, Innotech Oregon
• Semi-Finalist, 2006 Global Social Venture Competition
• Best Social Return on Investment Analysis, 2005 Social and Environmental Technologies Challenge
Habla usted Espanol?