The COVID Pivot: Tami Garcia Is Preserving Language + Culture Across The Globe
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
The intergenerational disconnect is what happens when one individual becomes disconnected through language and culture by various reasons outside of their control. Whether that's through adoption or when language isn't passed down from one generation to the next. Often, this disconnect can leave individuals feeling isolated from their cultures.
Tami is the founder of Mully Lingua, a platform that connects cultural ambassadors to families worldwide. The ambassadors share the same languages as the families they work with while also sharing their culture and their heritage. Tami was raised in the midwest, disconnected from her family and her culture. Her family origin is Dominican and Jamaican. "Growing up without having this cultural connection made life more difficult for me. I was different from my friends, but I didn't have anyone like me to connect with, so I vowed that as a parent, I would do things differently," said Tami.
After adopting her daughter from Ethiopia, Tami committed to ensuring that her daughter developed pride in her culture. However, during her search, several obstacles crossed her path. She couldn't find an immersion school for her daughter or any other activities related to her Ethiopian heritage. Through her research, she found other families had similar experiences and were saying, "Yeah, I need that too."
Tami knew there had to be an easier way for families to connect to their identified languages and culture, specifically for busy families. There's a difference between learning the language and also understanding the nuances of the culture. This is why Tami created Mully Lingua. But Mully Lingua does more than that. It's a platform that gives individuals from the diaspora to own their narratives and tells them without diluted misinformation from the mainstream culture.
Tell us what your business was like pre-COVID?
The platform didn't have any online interface, but Tami always had the vision of going virtual. Mully Lingua's business model was for face to face activities. It conducted a pilot program in a charter school in D.C. but quickly realized it didn't want to be an afterschool program. From there, Tami focused on building a global platform. The goal was to launch in early spring.
In which ways have you pivoted your business so you can continue to operate and serve?
"When Covid happened, I cried for the first few weeks because I didn't know what to do with the company. I had to pivot, or the business would die," shared Tami. At that point, the company transferred to 100% online. At first, Mully Lingua provided freemium access to activities in different languages. But then quickly, Tami realized how fast the company was growing. And this was with zero paid marketing. She launched the online platform with only five families.
Through word of mouth, personal circles, and within six weeks, Mully Lingua began to serve 500 families! The unexpected rapid growth led Tami to think quickly on the best way to scale earlier than expected. Her focus is to work with one diaspora community at a time. Tami first started with Ethiopia by providing one activity, which morphed into 15-20 activities over time. "I believe that everyone should have access to this type of learning regardless of socioeconomic status, and so the freemium model is offered to those families who can't afford it," said Tami. What happened next was an outpour of support from families who started to donate, which made it possible for Mully Lingua to charge for activities.
Mully Lingua began to offer girl empowerment sessions that addressed topics such as what it's like to be an Ethiopian American. They then transitioned to heritage versus educational camps that included games, cooking, dance, and more. They charged between $50-275 per week. Then they offered one-on-one tutoring and back to school activities. By following this model, Mully Lingua was able to role out activities in phases and included activities that revolved around languages and cultures. Tami sourced many of the Cultural Ambassadors from the adoption and Ethiopian communities that she was a part of, which led to Ethiopian families finding more about the company. As well as, through word-of-mouth, community-based organizations, and through Embassy relationships. Many of these blended families aren't aware of the traditions or holidays, and Mully Lingua was able to fill that void.
Tami started to see the children's confidence levels increasing, and the children began to feel a deep sense of pride in their cultures. That is the hope that Mully Lingua wants to provide for all communities. That accessibility should be available to all children. The Mully Lingua model creates a comfortable and easy way for people to engage with one another. "People are afraid. They wonder, will they accept me, is it safe," shared Tami. She hopes to continue to bridge the gap between local and online communities.
The Cultural Ambassadors could be anyone, and that's the beauty of the program. They can be certified teachers to the abuela cooking pupusas in the kitchen. Most of these people never imagined that they could share a part of themselves while also earning a monetary living. Many of the Cultural Ambassadors are educators, but Mully Lingua believes a rich cultural experience is possible and shared by anyone from the community. They provide them with training to help them figure out what they have to share and how they can share it.
What has helped you to pivot?
Tami laughs and says, "I don't have a plan b! I believe so much in what I'm doing, I'm a serial entrepreneur, this isn't my first company, but this is the first one that I'm the most confident about," shared Tami.
She took some time away from entrepreneurship for a few years to do some soul searching and become a mom. She had to look deeply within to understand why she didn't have enough confidence. The companies she created were good, but she struggled with imposter syndrome and always felt like she wasn't good enough. "I decided with the next company that I did I would be all in or not. I had to figure it out. I have really great advisors, and they know I don't have a plan b. So they told me to figure it out. I knew everyone was going online. It's not perfect. When you hear as a founder that you're doing things that don't scale, you really don't understand until you're in it. You find out that you're doing things that aren't sustainable," said Tami. Hearing this advice propelled her to get moving.
What advice would you give to business owners who are experiencing a crisis in their businesses?
"Dig deep, don't hold on to what you believed it should be, or what you have planned for, plans could be changed, you may think, I worked so hard at this, have to make this thing work, don't be stuck on that idea. But the problem you're trying to solve, look for another way to solve it. It might be a different problem that you can do with your business, look where people are now, look at what's trending, what's doing really well, look at what people need that they're not getting. You have to be determined. There's always a way. Don't be too ashamed to talk to people. Just talk to people let them know what you're doing, what your problem is, and what you're looking for. This is a time to reinvent yourself, figure it out. No one's going to hold it against you," said Tami.
What's next for your Mully Lingua?
Tami will be adding more cultures and will be creating a big marketing campaign to raise more funds. She has many cool ideas in the works for Mully Lingua and hopes to be all across the U.S. and in ten countries around the globe. Mully Lingua is in conversations with other countries and franchise opportunities. The opportunities are endless. Tami hopes to get this into the hands of the people who need it and the people that could use the additional income. She believes that everybody has something to share. "We want people proficient in their culture and want to give people a platform so they can share it," said Tami.
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