“Why Did You Choose an LLC?”
One of the biggest questions we get asked is why we chose a for-profit organizational model as opposed to an educational or charitable nonprofit. The answer is straightforward. After lots of thinking, talking, and strategizing, this was the pathway that emerged as the most direct route towards our vision of culturally responsible immigrant integration.
Enumerating the reasons is really helpful for understanding what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how. Even more, it reveals many cultural/ethnocentric assumptions around language learning, cultural integration, and how we achieve social justice. So, if you’re with us this far, we’d like to break it down for you.
- Nonprofits Are Incorporated Businesses, Too – If you’re starting with no money, 501(c)(3) nonprofits are challenging to organize. You have to pay for legal incorporation, and you have to get a Board of Directors. And when you do that, you have to go look for funding – which means a charitable donation, or a grant. The board controls the activities of the staff and volunteers. There are many reasons why this would have made things challenging for the specific work we are doing, some of which will be further enumerated below. Plus, nonprofits with overlapping missions often find themselves competing for funding, so they can’t collaborate.
- Nonprofits Are Beholden To Their Funders – Nonprofits do a tremendous amount of good in the US and the world. And it is a $1.3 trillion industry. The grantors and funders that keep this system running determine the shape of our social justice movements. Projects are often funded very narrowly, fitting into their institutional goals and existing frameworks for change. That can squelch innovation. Many Executive Directors will tell you that they spend (much) more than half of their time working their grant funding cycle, and not as much time as they would like pursuing their missions. And if funding is limited to 5 years or less, or it’s competitive each year, you have to plan that your funding my be pulled anytime.
- Nonprofits Are Our Customers – There are many nonprofits serving immigrant/refugee families, English language learners. They provide support in different ways – employment, education, resettlement, housing, health care, etc. We specifically provide technical support in the areas of language & cultural navigation to further their missions.
- A Limited Liability Company Is The Most Flexible Organizational Structure Available – Basically, you can make an LLC for just about anything you want, and it allows other people to have ownership of your organization. Patrik wanted a cooperative business model not primarily for profit gain per se, but to share ownership and allow people to put resources in, and take them out.
- Immigrants & Refugees Are Not Charity Cases – If you put immigration policy aside for the moment, most immigrant & refugee families are in a new land, ready to work hard to make a new life for their families. Though they struggle for a couple of years, they need language & cultural skills training to help them navigate the complex systems and institutions of their new culture.
- English Language Learners Benefit – We have a number of programs for low-income Limited English Proficient persons. In those cases, the customer is a nonprofit who serves that community, or the teacher-to-be who is learning classroom management skills and cultural competence. When the English Language Learner has resources, they can pay for our services. The immigrant/refugee community is not one-dimensional, and we serve them at all levels. But even more, it’s mainstream US citizens and the businesses and institutions that make up the dominant culture who also wish to develop cultural competence.
- Language Is Not a Protected Class. The US Government does not treat language as a protected class for the purposes of anti-discrimination policy and law. This is one of several factors that make it difficult for social service organizations that serve non native English speakers to find money for language & cultural skills training. The cultural belief is that educational institutions should be providing that pathway.
- Educational Institutions’ Priorities Do Not Reflect the Reality of Immigrant/Refugee Lives – Educational institutions are incredibly important in the US and around the world. They are also expensive, complex, and inflexible. Many are beginning to question the Higher Ed Industry as well, as it appears that a degree definitely leads to debt, but not necessarily to a job. And those who do find a job in their field are often highly constrained in their choices as they have enormous debts to pay. This again moves energy away from social change and into status quo resource channels. Immigrants & refugees who are low income generally find that the academic system is too expensive for the product it offers.
- Academically Oriented Pedagogy Doesn’t Get The Goods – Aside from the systemic challenges, there is a persistent assumption that language learning is an analytic, academic endeavor. Academic approaches have a lot going for them – especially when the primary goal for language learning is to navigate an academic system. But for millions of non native English speaking adults, there is very little that meets their need for the cultural navigation skills that allow them to improve their families’ lives. Even existing skills training programs that intend to meet these non academic language & cultural needs continue to return to academically-oriented pedagogies because we just don’t have many other examples.
- We Have Some Amazing, Valuable Services – Please Purchase Them! – Ultimately, we’d like our culture and the world to recognize that language skills, language teaching skills, and the ability to navigate intercultural spaces are abilities that everyone needs in the US today, and doesn’t require full academic study. That doesn’t mean they cannot or shouldn’t be objects of theory production – just that the theoreticians are all on one floor of the department store, and the learners are all on another floor. Learning to drive a car doesn’t require much knowledge of combustion engineering, neither does using a language require much knowledge of language structure. It requires that we navigate it, that we use it, but not necessarily explain it. Intercultural Communication Skills are for everyone!