Oakland, United States

A Soap Opera For Success: The Grand Cafe Telenovela

C.E.O. Women

November 18, 2008

Popular television media helps reach broader audiences to enrich second language learning

Yessica Alfaro, C.E.O. Women Graduate, Owner, Yessica


Meet Sylvia, an immigrant woman from Mexico, who has a remarkable talent for repairs and is now trying to start her own “fix it” company. Each week Sylvia and her three friends from China, Vietnam and Haiti all meet at the Grand Cafe to share the struggles and challenges that they face as they try and start up their own micro finance enterprises in the US

That’s the storyline behind The Grand Cafe an innovative telenovela that will empower low income immigrant women with the training and basic English skills they need to launch their own small enterprises.

Telenovela’s are hugely popular melodramatic television serials originating from Latin America. Based on this format, The Grand Cafe will follow the lives and hearts of four ordinary women while teaching English and basic business skills to immigrant and refugee women flexibly and from the convenience of their own homes.

While the stories on The Grand Cafe belong to working women, the educational content in the Grand Cafe is based on C.E.O. (Creating Economic Opportunity) Women’s highly successful 16 week training program that helps immigrant women develop entrepreneurial skills while they learn English. Each 28 minute episode of The Grand Cafe will teach English, build basic business skills including marketing, legal issues, negotiation skills, finance, public speaking and networking.

Farhana Huq, Founder, C.E.O. Women, said, “The goal is to make the program much more interesting and accessible. The novellas will go straight to DVD first and be distributed to women so they can start the program in the comfort of their homes while accessing teacher resources.”

Unlike other training DVD’s, The Grand Cafe will appeal to women that might otherwise feel intimidated or reluctant to engage in a training program. It will also reach those women who are not able to make it to the classroom because of travel, time or competing work or family commitments -the telenova comes to them. The video episodes are available through a combination of DVD’s, broadcast, and online distribution and includes a companion work book for independent study. With The Grand Cafe, C.E.O. Women hopes to expand the number of women that they are able to reach. Since the DVD can easily be shared, the Grand Cafe lends itself to viral marketing. May Oliveros graduated from the program last year and successfully opened her own beauty salon where she often plays the Grand Cafe on the salon television to inspire her clients.

A Multiplier Effect…

Since 2000, C.E.O. Women has been providing immigrant and refugee women with the tools to achieve economic empowerment. C.E.O. Women’s clients are all women. 94% of them earn low to moderate incomes, (according to HUD and HHS guidelines), 25% percent are single heads of households and 100% of the clients are immigrants or refugees from countries all over the world.[1]

In 2008 alone, C.E.O. Women served over 400 women in the San Francisco Bay area through orientations, training, workshops and consulting services.

With The Grand Cafe, C.E.O. Women hopes to expand the number of women that they reach to well over 1000 in 2009 and duplicate the impressive results achieved with their program so far. For instance, on average, graduates of the 16 week C.E.O. Women program increased their household income by $28,000 while 87% of participants improved their reading and writing in English. Successful program graduates tend to start small independent businesses such as restaurants, catering services, massage therapy services and online retail ventures. One recent graduate adds, “C.E.O Women gave me the confidence and the skills I need to run a successful business and I am proud of what I have accomplished. If you have a dream, CEO Women will help you develop your skills and get your where you need to be to each your goal.”,C.E.O. Women Graduate, Janet Orok, Owner, Lady J Catering

A Preview The Grand Cafe…

Sylvia may be putting in long hours to start her fix it business, but it is not all work at The Grand Cafe. The cafe is operated by a good looking and eligible bachelor, Antonio. One day when Antonio’s espresso machine breaks down, Sylvia is on hand to repair it. Removing the pin from her hair she uses it to fix the machine on the spot – and as her long dark hair tumbles down past her shoulders, her eyes meet Antonio’s and he is soon smitten by the normally shy Sylvia….

For related library resources on this Good Idea, see sidebar at right.

(Statistics are based on C.E.O. Women’s 2007 Annual Outcomes Survey).

Making it Work for You:

  • Explore new communication channels and media - from YouTube to FaceBook to your own podcasts, technology can help make your message more accessible to a much broader audience.
  • Don't be afraid to be creative! Look for entertaining and off-beat ways to engage target audiences.
  • When you are exploring new technology or new media, remember that developing key messages, clear content, and understanding the needs and preferences of your audience always comes first.