First classes in Guatemala

It’s hard to think of a more rewarding gift than the following update from Guatemala. Just as parents smile from within as their children achieve first moments of independence – a first step, first sentence, first job – it is with great pride that we look back and see the Barefoot MBA beginning to take its first step of independence. Rather than spoil it with commentary, we include Ottavio’s e-mail, with his permission, here:

Teaching saving and investing in Guatemala

SOLOLÁ, Guatemala, December 9 – I am now at the beginning of my fourth month here in Guatemala. My Spanish has improved dramatically, which has allowed me to move around much more freely. Language is quite a powerful tool.

Finally, after much organizing, consternation, etc. (I have been wielding the phrase that you have used, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, like an ax) we have executed the first (saving, spending and investing) of a series of basic business education courses here at la Universidad de Valle Altiplano in Sololá. Nearly 40 people showed up and paid 10Q ($1.50) to attend the course. 34 of the 39 people were women; all owned businesses, and over half were teachers who said they were planning on bringing the lessons to their classes and homes. It really was a joy and fortunately there was a lot of interest in the rest of the lessons that the Barefoot MBA has to offer.

My biggest fear going into the day was that the lessons were going to be too easy. While I think that the lessons could have been a little harder (the next subjects are inherently more difficult), fielding a question about how saving money in a bank is useless because you can’t earn any interest reassured me that there was a need for this kind of education. After going over what the result of saving 50Q every two weeks for 10 years would be and how much interest you would earn from your savings (people were certainly shocked to see the results of this exercise) there was agreement that it was a good idea. The activities that we designed worked great (we broke into groups and proposed different scenarios and brainstormed how one should deal with them). Group participation, it seems to me, is very helpful.

Going forward, in addition to offering additional lessons on Saturdays, we are going to continue working with the Grameen Bank (the 10 or so other micro-finance organizations I met with are moving much more slowly. Processes with them are pending) in order to get a group of their clients to come to the university a few times to receive all of the lessons. We plan on using this group to help determine the effect this type of education has, if any. Hopefully we will be able to gather some anecdotal evidence that shows that the course is having a positive effect. Any advice on how to go about this would be great.

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