My principal goal in teaching marketing is to help students understand the creative problem-solving process that underlies marketing practice. Typically, in my classes, I do not talk about poverty, nor the structural barriers that people in poverty face in my class. However, poverty stemming from inequality is the underlying problem that society faces – it is the #1 UN Sustainable Development Goal. It affects my students’ lives – their health, education, relationships, and professional success.
My students know poverty well. As community college students, 70% face a combination of food and housing insecurity (Dedman, 2019). And yet when we study how organizations can succeed when they can add value to their customer’s lives, most of my students focus on aspirational products and services related to fitness, beauty, fashion, food, and internet of things. Very few consider products and services that can solve social problems. Perhaps, very few believe that social problems of such magnitude can be solved.
Inspired by the Voicing Poverty Summer Institute, I would like to set two goals to revamp my Introduction to Marketing course. One, to build empathy in the classroom where poverty and life can be discussed in a more human way; and two, to encourage my students to look at creative ways to solve social problems emanating from poverty but without stigmatizing the problem or those who face these problems.
Goal 1: Building Empathy/ Oneness
While some people think that the main goal of businesses is to make a profit, I tend to take more of a societal view of business, one that ensures that economies remain strong, and take care of all their citizens. I would like my students as future business professionals to learn to work collaboratively and with empathy, to benefit not only the organization but also society. To set this new tone, I plan to start the class by taking two minutes on Zoom to check in with each other focusing on two questions: What are we grateful for today? What did not go well? Students would post their own responses on the chat, and, also, respond to some of their fellow students. In addition, to building empathy, I believe this will create a sense of belongingness and community in the classroom and help me know who needs help and even what we can celebrate. Empathy can be a tricky subject. In the world of business, organizations employ design thinking to understand how to solve users’ problems. But there is concern that if empathy is only used as a means to an end, it can lead the designer to overlook the historical roots of the problem, without sufficiently understanding and feeling how the problem impacts the user. Bennet & Rosner (2019) call for designers to develop an affective partnership with the user, “attending to the difference between themselves and the users without reifying that difference once again.”
Goal 2: Solving Social problems
My second adaptation would be for students to introspect on the social problems that face their communities and choose to creatively problem-solve issues that resonate most deeply with them. I would like to set the stage by having my students look at the UN Sustainable Development Goals that focus on the world’s biggest problems and go over a few entrepreneurial solutions that organizations have developed to address these “wicked” problems. Instead, of looking at a world with shiny objects, what would the experience be for them if they look at the problems related to poverty in their own communities, and serve as change agents? In this new semester-long project in my Introduction to Marketing class, students will:
- Review the Solutions U platform that curates journalistic articles related to social problems such as Gun/Gang violence; Homelessness; Joblessness; Education-gap among new immigrants that arise from poverty and, discuss the ones that most resonate with them.
- Go on a community walk to observe problems that they see manifest in their neighborhood.
- Research the breadth and depth of the problem and explore databases such as Infoshare and local newspapers to understand the significance of the problem in their neighborhood.
- Brainstorm potential solutions with their team.
- Practice empathy as they speak and spend time interviewing the users, using the principles of design-thinking to understand the roots of the problem and how it impacts the users. They will learn to approach the user with humility, keeping in mind that they will never be able to fully understand the breadth and depth of the problem, and credit the user with the solution that they create.
- Build an empathy map based on the interviews and discuss what the interviewees said, felt, thought, and did to arrive at potential solutions
- Unpack the insights that they received from the interviews and consider if this would require them to modify their initial solutions?
- Watch as a team the documentary ‘The Line: Poverty in America’ by Linda Midgett (2014) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHyNBGIFYl8 and then discuss the structural issues that were at the root of the social problems that they were tackling.
- Create a social media campaign to advocate for change to solve the problem, visiting the Interference Archive that saves cultural productions of social movements for inspiration.
- Present their findings on the need of their community and their plans for a social media campaign to their local community boards, taking on the role of citizen-researchers.
Goldrick-Rab, S., Richardson, J., & Hernandez, A. (2017). Hungry and homeless in college: Results from a national study of basic needs insecurity in higher education.
Dedman, B. (2019). Majority of College Students Experience Food Insecurity, Housing Insecurity, or Homelessness. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/aacu-news/newsletter/majority-college-students-experience-food-insecurity-housing-insecurity
Bennett, C. L., & Rosner, D. K. (2019, May). The Promise of Empathy: Design, Disability, and Knowing the” Other”. In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 1-13).