Happy new year! We mark the start of each year with a reflection of how far we’ve come: It was over the New Year’s holiday that the seed for the Barefoot MBA was planted, in 2006-07. Since then we’ve reached every continent, including our first website hit from Antarctica last month.
In 2019 we gave our website a much-needed facelift, maintaining its content but reorganizing to make it more quickly and intuitively accessible even on the most stubborn connections — critical as the Barefoot MBA becomes more and more self-sustaining. Even as our hands-on involvement has declined, our mission and commitment remain as strong as over that New Year’s 13 years ago.
Our hope for the coming year is that our tool continues to reach entrepreneurs who need it — and that you continue to share with us stories of how it does so we can share them here.
We are pleased and proud to launch our new website design. All of our existing content is still here, just more organized and, we hope, intuitive. We hope this new look inspires new partnerships and rejuvenates existing ones.
Our relaunch coincides with the 12th anniversary of our Barefoot MBA pilot in Thailand. Some cultures mark 12 as a coming of age year; we are marking it with a website that has finally come of age.
We have been eager to refresh the look of our site for some time. Thanks to Dawn and Adrian for their time and good humor in making that happen.
Our hypothetical sewing machine example has become reality yet again. When we created the Barefoot MBA, we created and frequently told the story of a hypothetical seamstress who could exponentially increase productivity if only she had the tools to think about how — it wasn’t just the speed at which she could sew additional pants but also the wherewithal to think about sewing shirts too.
That was 2007. Over the years the story has resonated with our borrowers and also sophisticated social entrepreneurs.
We made it a reality by participating in a Kiva loan to Lisney, a dressmaker in Colombia, to buy a sewing machine and build her business. Lisney repaid her loan in full, and we have subsequently loaned to Vitolia in Samoa and Maria Esperanza in El Salvador (twice!), all to support sewing machines. We also have loaned to Shoira in Tajikistan, another seamstress, to buy a car for her husband so he can work as a taxi driver and generate a second income for their family. All have repaid or are on track to repay their loans.
We support these seamstresses not just for their sewing abilities but also for their ability to think beyond their machines and materials to create better lives for themselves and their families.
Happy new year! Early last year, we were part of a Kiva loan for another sewing machine, this time to Vitolia in Samoa. In March Vitolia borrowed $700 to buy a sewing machine, thread, needles, a measuring tape, a new pair of scissors and material for her tailoring business. She repaid it over the course of the year, making her final payment just as 2018 ended.
We are once again proud to support a real sewing machine story, as we did for Lisney in 2015 and as we wrote about hypothetically in the early days of the Barefoot MBA. Like the hypothetical seamstress in our example, Lisney and now Vitolia wanted a sewing machine to make more clothes — and to gain access to the business world and to training for entrepreneurs. Ultimately all three wanted not just successful businesses but also to support their families.
Happy new year from the Barefoot MBA! 2017 marked our tenth anniversary, an important milestone to reflect on how far we’ve come in a decade. (See below.)
It gives us great joy to know the Barefoot MBA is now nearly self-sustaining. It gives us almost as much joy to know how it’s being used. Please continue to let us know how you’ve used or hope to use our materials. We welcome your stories, your photos and your feedback.
This week marks the tenth anniversary of our first Barefoot MBA pilot.
A lot can change in ten years – progress, priorities, partnerships. And a lot can stay the same. In addition we still need help, especially with this site, partnership ideas and adaptation opportunities.
Here’s what’s changed:
Progress: When we boarded a plane to Bangkok to pilot the Barefoot MBA with the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) a decade ago, we were hopeful for what we could do for one organization in a summer. Our pilot of a few lessons that July gave PDA the tools it needed to roll out the entire curriculum to multiple sites across Thailand. That paved the way for other organizations to follow, in at least a dozen countries around the world. Our website has received traffic from another two dozen countries.
Partnerships: We are grateful to PDA for the success of the Barefoot MBA. If not for its leadership, inspiration and willingness to take a risk on a pair of business school students, we would not have such a strong early foundation to prove ourselves to the partners that followed.
Priorities: Our priority remains making basic business education freely available to anyone, anywhere. But the way we have done that has shifted, from our high-touch, on-the-ground approach to a more passive one. Instead of being constrained by our availability to physically be on the ground to adapt the Barefoot MBA (which we are still happy to do), we have solidified a model that lets organizations adapt the materials themselves while we support them from afar if necessary. Our first independent adaptation happened within 18 months of our pilot. We reached self-sufficiency 6 years ago, and it is perhaps our proudest achievement.
Here’s what hasn’t: Principles. We created the Barefoot MBA because we saw a need for freely available basic business education for even the smallest-scale entrepreneurs. We have sustained it because we see what a difference it makes. Ten years later, and in mostly hands-off mode, we still get new requests. And we still find a way to work with any prospective partner who is true to our principles. That has meant turning down offers to monetize our work – and we are OK with that.
And here’s the other thing that hasn’t changed: We are still looking for help. Not with the materials – those, mercifully, are well tested. But we would be grateful for assistance with:
Web development: Our blog-turned-website is also approaching its tenth anniversary and could use a simple refresh by a talented and creative developer.
Partnership ideas: We are always seeking new partners, domestically and abroad. In general, our partners have been organizations (generally but not always nonprofits) with proven infrastructure and a community eager to learn basic business but lacking the tools to do so. These organizations adapt the Barefoot MBA, with our guidance as necessary and desired, and maintain our spirit of making basic business education freely available to their clients.
Adaptation opportunities: In addition to additional partner organizations, we welcome introductions to volunteers interested in working with partners to adapt and share the Barefoot MBA.
We are grateful to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, particularly its Service Learning Program and Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, and the dozens of individuals and organizations that launched us a decade ago and continue to support our mission. We look forward to sharing the next ten years with you.
Lisney, the dressmaker in Colombia whose Kiva loan we supported, just made her final payment.
In late 2015, we were part of the $400 Lisney borrowed to buy a sewing machine, a story that mirrored the hypothetical example we shared in the early days of the Barefoot MBA to demonstrate why it was important. Like the hypothetical seamstress in our example, Lisney wanted a sewing machine to make more clothes — and to gain access to the business world and to training for entrepreneurs. Ultimately Lisney wants not just a successful business but also to educate her daughters and buy a home.
In March 2016, Lisney started repaying her loan. Her repayments were consistent for the first few months but then tapered off and eventually stopped by the end of the year. She was in danger of default. This week, the rest of Lisney’s loan was repaid in full.
We are proud to be part of Lisney’s story and thrilled to bring to life a story that once existed only in our imaginations. Thank you, Lisney.
Happy new year! Ten years ago this week the seed for the Barefoot MBA was planted. Though our updates to have been less frequent, our mission continues. As always, we welcome updates on how you’ve used or hope to use our materials.
We recently made a small loan to Lisney, a dressmaker in Colombia, so she could buy a sewing machine and expand her business. But this was no ordinary loan.
In the early days of the Barefoot MBA, we frequently explained our vision with a hypothetical story about a sewing machine. Imagine, we would say, that you are a skilled sewer. Your family’s financial future depends on your small sewing business. You sew a few pairs of pants per day, earning barely enough to cover your costs and taking home very little. You borrow money for a sewing machine, thinking that will allow you to sew more pants. It does. But the sales don’t come. It soon becomes clear that the market is not large enough to support another pants business. Now, you have to repay your debt in addition to supporting your family.
What if this situation could be avoided? What if the entrepreneur in this case understood the relationship between price and supply? What if she used the same machine to instead make shirts if that’s what the market was missing? Understanding basic concepts could empower even the world’s smallest entrepreneurs to make better business decisions and provide better lives for themselves, their families and their communities.
Nine years ago, we conceptualized the Barefoot MBA to do just that. A few months later, we created the sewing machine example to illustrate our idea to a community of leading social entrepreneurs. Recently, we stumbled upon Lisney. And couldn’t wait to help.
We are proud to give with purpose to help Lisney fund her loan. We are pleased to count Kiva, Lisney’s lender, among our early supporters. We are heartened to see that Kiva has a partner in Lisney’s case that provides business training.
Thank you, Lisney, for making our hypothetical story a reality heading toward a happier ending. Happy new year.
Five years ago this week we piloted the Barefoot MBA with villagers near Lamplaimat, Thailand. The world has seen plenty of progress since then: Five Nobel Peace Prize winners. Two new countries. The birth of the world’s seven billionth baby. The Barefoot MBA has seen plenty of progress since then too: eight published adaptations in five languages. Reaching every inhabited continent. A thriving tool, largely without our direct support. We can’t promise to become the next Nobel Laureates or reach all seven billion people in all 195 countries, but five years of progress in basic business education is a pretty good start.
The Barefoot MBA is a tool we created in 2007 to teach basic business to anyone, anywhere through a collection of modular, adaptable lessons. After a successful pilot that summer, we started spreading the Barefoot MBA. We continue to run it as a labor of love.
In five years, we’ve supported adaptations and implementations in nine countries: Cambodia, Guatemala, Kenya, Nicaragua, Philippines, Rwanda, Thailand, Uganda and the United States. In addition, we’ve heard about adaptations and implementations in India, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda. Adaptations are underway in at least three other countries. And that’s just what we know about. We regularly hear anecdotes of others spreading the word about, if not also using, our open-source tool. The nature of our work makes an exact number impossible to pinpoint, but we know we have reached several tens of thousands of people around the world.
We’ve presented to leaders in social entrepreneurship. We’ve been covered by local and national media. The founder of the Thai NGO that incubated our pilot even mentioned us in his TED talk (starting around 10:45).
Stanford students spent part of their winter break teaching basic business lessons inspired by the Barefoot MBA, thanks to the program that initially supported us. Through Stanford’s Service Learning Program and ThinkImpact, which provides experiential learning opportunities in rural Africa, a team of 18 students traveled to the Coast region of Kenya to immerse themselves in local culture and learn about social entrepreneurship.
One student wrote:
For many of us, the major highlight of the trip was the two-day homestay within the Kaloleni community. We lived in small groups alongside community members to immerse ourselves in their day-to-day lives. We slept in thatched huts with mud walls and floors, sharing close living quarters with family members and farm animals alike. We carried water on our heads and ate local food that we prepared alongside the village women. We actively engaged with the community members, learning about their lives, small businesses, hopes and challenges. This experience culminated in a two-day service project in which we worked with community entrepreneurs to brainstorm creative ways in which they could grow their businesses. Many of us were surprised to find that we were able to offer insights into their businesses, and we were encouraged by the depth of relationships fostered between our two groups and within the community members themselves.
Entrepreneurs worked alongside the team in Kenya, as pictured below. We hope to post more details soon.
The Barefoot MBA has become part of the community at the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), Thailand’s largest NGO and our original partner. Lauren, a student on a Stanford trip there in late December / early January, shared a brief update. The Barefoot MBA is being used in 148 villages total, including as part of the Village Development Program in 71 villages and in school-based programs in 5 (growing to 13). Teachers at the Bamboo School, PDA’s high-performing school, are trained to implement it as well. Mechai Viravaidya, the founder of PDA and our inspiration, has prioritized education and improving conditions for the very poor. And the Barefoot MBA has become integrated in PDA’s overview presentation, so even those who are interested in PDA for other reasons still get a glimpse of our work.
Happy new year. This January update is our fifth since the Barefoot MBA became an idea to teach basic business to anyone, anywhere. That idea quickly became a curriculum, and that curriculum continues to touch every inhabited continent. Thanks largely to our partner organizations, we’ve reached tens of thousands of participants. And our numbers continue to grow.
We also reiterate our plea to you, our readers, for two things:
Website redesign and relaunch: Our blog-turned-website was adequate in the Barefoot MBA’s infancy, but a well-designed, robust site could help expand our reach
Adaptation and translation assistance: Our curriculum can go only as far as it’s understood, which for now means locations that can leverage existing adaptations. Spending a few days in local markets should generate enough information for a new adaptation, and fluency in local language means translation should take no more than a few hours
If you’d like to help, or know someone who might, please comment on this post or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you haven’t already, feel free to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
The Barefoot MBA is heading back to Kenya, this time via the Stanford program that first supported it. Through Stanford’s Service Learning Program and ThinkImpact, which provides experiential learning opportunities in rural Africa, a team of 18 students will adapt and teach the Barefoot MBA to entrepreneurs in the Coast region. We are excited to strengthen our first partnership and build a new one, a fitting celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Service Learning Trip that inspired the Barefoot MBA.
Our partner in Rhode Island, the Capital Good Fund, reports that 70 people have graduated from its business workshops based on the Barefoot MBA. CGF is focusing on loans and one-on-one coaching and working to incorporate a business component into the coaching.