In the April 2022 Issue of Connect, María Ballesteros-Sola discusses writing cases on social enterprises, facilitating case discussions in the classroom, her dream job as UN translator, plus much more.
Maria, what is it you like about writing case studies and teaching with the case method?
As academics, we spend a lot of time theorising and discussing abstract concepts; when I engage with the protagonist of my cases, social enterprises’ leaders, and managers, I have an opportunity to establish a connection between those abstract concepts and the reality in the field. I am obviously biased toward my discipline (I couldn’t write about something I don’t believe in) but writing about social enterprises brings me hope about the human race: these are restless and resilient entrepreneurs working to make the world a better place. Who wouldn’t want to be learning from them?
I have similar thoughts to explain why I use cases with my students. Especially for undergraduates, abstract theoretical concepts are hard to apprehend. A well-conceived and written case provides an engaging true story that allows students to better understand and apply those abstract theoretical concepts. Case stories bridge the gap between theory and practice in a way that is appealing to our Millennials and Generation Z students.
How does the case method come alive in the classroom, and what skills does it teach students?
A case comes alive when students engage in a conversation where the instructor, as a facilitator, can sit back and help students to build upon each other’s comments. During case discussions, I have learned to ask and not to tell. Also, we have learned the hard way that although the case should be thought of as a delivery mode agnostic pedagogy, teaching cases online is more challenging, so to make the case method come alive online I had to develope new strategies for stimulating student engagement in online synchronous discussions (strategic use of chat, chat storms, emojis, break out rooms, polls, etc.)
Students are hopefully not only achieving the learning objectives established in the teaching note, but they are also developing skills and knowledge related to active listening, developing arguments and counterarguments, public speaking, quick information processing and moving from abstract to concrete and back.
What’s your favourite case, and why?
It is hard to isolate just a single case. I admire many cases and case authors, including some of my fabulous co-authors, so I decided to pick one of my still unpublished cases. This case is titled Black Sheep: Choosing the Right Legal Structure for Mission-Driven Ventures, written with one of my CSUCI students.
In my courses, the social entrepreneur's choice of legal structure/organisational form is always a tricky topic, one that students (primarily undergraduates) find dull and dry. As a lawyer by training, I knew that there had to be a better way to discuss non-profit vs. for-profit and purpose-driven statutes such as benefit corporations.
The protagonist in this case was struggling precisely with that question as she was starting a small venture to provide working opportunities for young adults with disabilities while reducing food waste in our county. This discussion is always a live one that leads the students to understand how "form follows function" and that social entrepreneurs need to address some essential questions related to their business model before tackling their legal structure.
If you could be transported into another profession for one week, which would you choose, and why?
There are many professions and professional paths that I find fascinating.
Still, given the state of world affairs these days, I daydream that I am a professional United Nations translator, and with some twists in my translation, I can bring peace to the world.
After that, I feel fortunate to say that being a professor, as a second career, is without any doubt the best job in the world for me!
How do you relax?
Relax? What’s that? If I am not reading or writing, you can find me in the gym doing some Zumba or yoga, or venturing now into belly dancing. I also enjoy hiking around our beautiful Ventura County (California) and spending time with friends and family.
Do you have a favourite quote or guiding principle?
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela.
I usually tell my students education is like a back pack, the bigger it is, the further you get and no one, no one can take that away from you.