Maker Faire Africa: Lessons, day 1

NAIROBI – The 100 or so makers here at Maker Faire Africa come from all over the continent, largely from Kenya but also from countries like Burundi, Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa. Their products span a broader array, from hand-crafted mobiles to water pumps, eggshell art to stoves made from burning trash.

But at the Barefoot MBA workshop, participants had a singular focus: learning basic business. Our first day’s session taught profit and investing using stories and an interactive activity we adapted from our initial pilot, in Thailand. Our 25 participants engaged in the stories and actively participated in the questions that followed. They were enraptured, though, by the activity, which illustrates interest by showing the value of several equal investments over the same time period.

We developed the activity in rural Thailand, where participants playing the roles of customers invested in items that grew naturally, like seeds and baby animals. We hesitated to use agricultural examples here in Nairobi, preferring instead to use investments with which largely urban participants could identify. Joy suggested cement, and we demonstrated the concept of investment by having participants invest in cement mix and two kinds of brick-making machines. (One participant still invested in nothing, retaining our control case.)

Participants understood immediately; later, those who walked by our workshop said they could tell by body language and laughter alone that participants were learning.

In the discussion that followed, participants answered our questions and asked some of their own. When asked for other examples of investments they’d made, one even said he just sold eight cows, six more than he bought several years ago. When someone else asked what he should invest in next, we underscored the importance of investing in familiar areas – imagine if someone who’d never seen a cow suddenly owned eight or even two.

Overall, feedback was positive. A participant from Burundi asked how he could use the Barefoot MBA at home. Others said they’d bring their friends to tomorrow’s session. And we heard later from event organizers that people asked why we weren’t teaching the other fourteen Barefoot MBA lessons.

Come back tomorrow for two more, we said. And then enjoy the rest of Maker Faire.

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