By: Maria Fedore, Social Innovation Workshop Participant
The path of my adult life has been in one lane primarily: Learner. Teacher. Teacher coach. Education student.
Prior to relocating to Tulsa, I taught at a high school in Houston in a community that was home to many refugees. Following that, I had worked abroad in Thailand with Burmese refugees and immediately, I had found my heart so drawn to this people group and the hardships of their lives as refugees. With my teaching background, I longed to see the children in refugee and immigrant families have all the learning opportunities that would help them move forward toward a better, happier life. Soon, it became apparent to me that my life work would be focused on helping to ensure that linguistically and culturally diverse students would receive the excellent education that they deserve.
All of my past professional experiences were education-focused. So, when I left my job in August to pursue this new work stream full-time, I didn’t even know where to start. The “educating” piece, I could do. The business side of setting up a structure to help deliver that education to our local immigrant population in Tulsa remained unclear.
In my haze of quitting and ideating on how to follow my passion to solve what I believe to be a real problem, the opportunity to attend a 4-week Social Innovation Workshop with The Mine was dropped in my lap. Starting in early September, it was perfectly timed to guide me through the “business” side of my initiative.
After the first two-hour meeting, I understood the problem I was trying to solve in a much deeper way. Hearing someone else pitch my problem in one minute was incredibly valuable. It became very apparent to me that there were many things I knew, more things I thought I knew, and even more that I had no idea I didn’t know. In the six hours that followed, as a recovering perfectionist, I was allowed the opportunity to come to terms with the failure requirements of any learning curve (fail fast, fail often) work on my pitch, and build empathy towards my target audience.
After the workshop, I was perfectly poised to apply for the Tulsa Area United Way Social Innovation Grant, knowing the information and structure of the “perfect” five-minute pitch from my workshop experience. Being awarded this grant has allowed me to expand my impact to an entire school in East Tulsa as well as provide direct student support to Burmese refugees in South Tulsa.
The experience of participating in the Social Innovation Workshop was invaluable. When I started, I lacked the confidence to start a business because I thought it required many skills I didn’t have. To quote Taylor Potter, I’m learning to “Stay married to the problem, not the solution.” As long as I follow this sage advice and adapt to meet the needs of my clients as I focus my solutions over time, my work will serve the purpose I’ve set out for it to accomplish.
Maria serves as Founder and Executive Director of Tulsa Newcomer Services. For more information, visit http://www.tulsanewcomerservices.org.