Ngutu College (an independent school in Adelaide using Indigenous-informed curriculum to whom Save the Children Impact Investment Fund provided a loan) invited us in March to help their Year 4 to 9 students discuss ethical and social enterprises as part of a year-long project to learn about and start an enterprise. The five groups of children were in varied early stages of learning and thinking about what avenues they would pursue.
Not having taught a class in 15 years, I admit to having felt nervous and excited at the opportunity to engage with the kids on their understanding and ideas. With such a wide range of ages, you might imagine that talking about business or financing might be difficult or boring! Any trepidation melted away as the warm reception and smiles quickly gave way to one of childhood’s greatest assets: curiosity.
A big believer in discursive learning, I began each group with the simple question, “What do you think a social enterprise is?” The answers, regardless of age and just like the field itself, were surprisingly complex! Some put forth companies like those outlined by Social Enterprise Australia, which outline 3 models. Other kids described more inclusive definitions like Social Enterprise Alliance: any organization that uses business methods to execute its social/environmental mission. Deciding to skip a more expansive conversation around moral ethics, we decided on the latter as a working definition and moved onto brainstorming.
Big issues like climate change can even be overwhelming for adults, so with the help of the teachers, I wanted to give some structure to focus their thoughts. We suggested a three-part framework for the kids to work with: Problem, Solutions, Capability. First, identify a problem you care about. Second, brainstorm some solutions to that problem. Finally, identify which solutions fall overlap with your capabilities. Ngutu’s technology-integrated, flexible learning spaces allowed us to map ideas, reference media, and vividly unpack the kids’ myriad suggestions.
We started with outlining a problem set, in which we encouraged the children to think spatially on multiple levels, something indigenous children do exceptionally well. One child lamented the lack of dining options immediately surrounding the school, another worried about the koalas (and biodiversity), and one teacher seized on the amount of waste paper generated by her class! Others raised larger issues like homelessness, climate change, and cost of living, which provided fertile ground for thinking about a solution set.
In talking through a range of solutions, it was wonderful to the see children’s suggestions filled with boundless creativity and optimism. People need homes? Let’s build some! Plastics in the ocean? Maybe we can build a big net and scoop it out!
Finally, in bringing the conversation back to social enterprise, we also discussed what it meant to be financially sustainable, which allowed them to narrow the field of solutions to what they might be physically, temporally, and financially capable of executing. We ended the discussion generally by encouraging them to test the limits of what they thought doable.
Later, Head of College Andrew Plastow led me on a tour around the grounds, highlighting the adaptive practices and spaces that allow for each child to express themselves and grow in agency, identity, and academics. We stopped outside to admire a large mural painted by a local artist in collaboration with the children; the picture below drives home this beautiful and important lesson of fostering agency, seeing themselves as artists or the people they admire, and establishing pride in space that is of their making.
We are proud to continue to support Ngutu College and its children, and I can’t wait to hear what they develop out of their learning.