Fourth anniversary

Four years ago this month we first piloted the Barefoot MBA. Since then we’ve expanded from 1 country to 12 (that we know of), 2 creators to countless partners and volunteers. We’ve reached people on every inhabited continent, including thousands of participants. Some of their stories are below; many don’t reach us. And we’re still serious about our lofty-sounding goal to reach anyone, anywhere.

So we begin our fifth year not with another recap of how far we’ve come but with a plea to you, our readers, for two things:

  1. 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
  2. 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

And if you haven’t already, feel free to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

We look forward to another productive year ahead!

2010 in review

Four years ago this week we conceived of the Barefoot MBA idea, determined to create a workable curriculum for the Thai social enterprise that inspired our work and wondering aloud what our creation would look like in Africa, where we saw indisputable need but no opportunity to make it there.

In 2010, we made it – to no fewer than seven African countries. In Kenya and Rwanda this summer, Katherine ran workshops with two partner organizations, Maker Faire Africa and Gardens for Health International. (The latter loosely translated Barefoot MBA into the local language as rwiyemeza mikimo w’ikirenga utagira n’inkweto, which literally means a master good entrepreneur with no shoes on.) Other organizations adapted the Barefoot MBA in Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda, and at least two more are working with it in southern Africa.

We also made it to Nicaragua, where volunteers ran a four-week workshop, and to another site in India.

The lion’s share of these new partnerships sought us out, not the other way around.

In addition, we continue to hear encouraging reports from existing partners. For example, a Philippine partner rolled out the Barefoot MBA to up to 21,590 clients by August, a year after our train-the-trainers workshop and pilot. That’s a staggering number, especially in the wake of the country’s devastating typhoons.

Oh, and the Thai social entrepreneur who inspired the Barefoot MBA four years ago this week? He mentions us in his TED talk (starting around 10:45).

Our social media efforts on Facebook (become a fan!) and Twitter continue to expand our reach. Our blog-turned-website continues to get hits from every inhabited continent, and we continue to update it with anecdotes and adaptations. We continue to hear of others using the Barefoot MBA around the world and look forward to more stories and success in 2011.

Happy new year!

Staggering growth in the Philippines

Our partner in the Philippines, the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF), reports tremendous progress. From March to August, it rolled out the Barefoot MBA to up to 21,590 clients, about half of whom have attended at least two modified modules in their centers. NWTF plans additional roll out next year.

It’s hard to believe that barely a year earlier we introduced the Barefoot MBA to the Philippines. When we arrived, everyone in the Philippines who’d heard of the Barefoot MBA fit in a single classroom. By the time we left, we’d brought the Barefoot MBA to a small village. Reaching the equivalent population of a small city is staggering, and we are grateful to NWTF for its efforts.

Partnership in Uganda

The Barefoot MBA is heading to Uganda. Dave, an Intel employee who worked on a computer training program for a different organization in Uganda, is heading back there to train teachers and mentors through Educate!. Educate! runs a two-year mentoring program for high school students to become socially responsible leaders.

Dave will use the Barefoot MBA to help students start projects that give back to the community, from starting a business to passing on skills to fellow classmates. We look forward to updates on his progress.

Final class in Nicaragua

Nicaragua class

After four weeks of classes, the first Barefoot MBA course in Nicaragua wrapped up with great success. Amy-Ruth and Enrique write:

The last week of the course was great fun. We did a 2 part class of Profits and Planning-Recording. There were a few keen learners in this and you could hear the clogs turning in their heads! At one point Marco, who I was sitting next to and is a 63 year old ex-farmer turned café owner, said ‘yo entiendo’ meaning, ‘I understand’. That was something pretty cool I thought. He was trying to work out that, if he makes a 300% profit on the ingredients of his drinks then why isn’t he a millionaire by now… The class were put to the task of working this out and answers started flying our way ‘because he has to pay rent’ was one response ‘because you need to have electricity to keep ice frozen’ was another response and they kept coming until we had filled the board. Profit became something different for everybody I think.

In the class of Planning and Recording the students were a bit apprehensive. Some struggle to read and write and I think that the idea of recording anything on paper is a bit scary to some. The examples made it easy to see the value in it but it was when Enrique put a real example on the board of the sewing ladies and things fell into place. You know that there’s real interest when Silvia asked if she could please have a piece of paper so she could copy the example. That is the first time I have heard that here! I said we can do better than that and I presented everyone with their very own records book! Not the most exciting gift in the world but you should have seen their faces, it was classic! I think that it is not the value of the book, as that is only about $1, but it is the value of what they now know they can do with it that is worth so much.

Thank you very much to the Barefoot MBA team of Katherine and Scott for your help and your support. When we were looking at developing some sort of business course, the idea was just daunting! Then we came across your program and we have been excited about it ever since. Thank you again.

The Nicaragua adaptation is on our curriculum page. Amy-Ruth and Enrique also shared the application form they distributed to prospective participants.

Silvia receives certificate of completion
Silvia receives certificate of completion

Rwanda: Field teaching and farewell, but only for now

ATOP A HILL NEAR NDERA, Rwanda — The members of the Komara cooperative arrived at today’s Barefoot MBA workshop by foot, some walking more than three hours to arrive at the health center we used as a classroom. They’d been asking for basic business training for a long time.

After Sunday’s brief introduction, the field officers took turns teaching the lessons they’d been practicing at Gardens for Health (GHI) headquarters. Each field officer was more energetic than the one before, electrifying the room like dynamic preachers. In the back of the room, wishing I understood Kinyarwanda, I wondered to myself whether they were teaching something else entirely.

No, said those who understand both languages. The field officers taught profit, saving and investing using our stories and local examples. They facilitated the interactive investing activity. The cooperative members participated politely. They wanted more.

Once again the activity was the highlight. They learned from the stories, they said, but putting theory into practice right away prompted them to commit to doing things differently: One said he would focus on profit, not just revenue. Another said she would save at least some of his earnings instead of spending it all. A third said she would spend at least some of her income on something that predictably increases in value.

And once again I found myself pleasantly surprised at how broadly applicable our tool is. Scott and I hadn’t heard of GHI when we created the Barefoot MBA, yet with relatively minor preparation the two became excellent fits for each other.

My biggest regret today is that we didn’t make time for more. As we left (or, more accurately, tried to leave), cooperative members articulated more lessons they’d like to learn, each of which the Barefoot MBA addresses. Over time GHI plans to teach in the field the 10 lessons the field officers learned. GHI also has committed to translating all 16 lessons, which we’ll post so others can pick and choose those most appropriate to their audiences.

I leave Rwanda confident in GHI’s ability to follow through on its commitments and then some. I look forward to strengthening our partnership.

We’ve already been invited back.

Rwanda: Ready to teach the cooperatives

NDERA, Rwanda – The field officers spent a full day training today to prepare for their pilot sessions at the cooperative tomorrow.

Today we used two trainers. Evas, who helped Sunday translate the Barefoot MBA and has experience running other trainings locally, this morning taught the remaining four lessons that will become part of Gardens for Health’s adaptation. Sunday rejoined the group after lunch to guide the field officers through practice teaching the three lessons they’ll teach to the cooperative tomorrow.

The field officers worked together to make the profit, saving and investing lessons as relevant as possible and then practiced teaching to each other.

We started with the stories. They understood. They engaged.

Then we moved onto the interactive exercise that reinforced the lessons, especially investing. That wasn’t quite as smooth. Instead of encouraging interaction by leading the group through the activity, the field officer re-explained the concept of investing using a table that showed increases in value over time. We used the opportunity to underscore the importance of involving participants: The activity engaged the field officers and reinforced the lesson, and we hope it serves a similar purpose for the cooperative members.

Rwanda: Meeting cooperatives

IN A VALLEY NEAR NDERA, Rwanda – The cooperatives we visited today exemplify the situations we envisioned when creating the Barefoot MBA.

More than three years ago, in the comfort of the Stanford campus, we had visions of meeting with groups so far off the beaten path we had no option but to use nature as furniture and shade.

Today, we twice hiked into the valley to meet cooperatives whose most substantive structure is a rabbit hutch. At the first, we walked through an extensive cabbage farm while Modeste, GHI’s first local employee, talked to cooperative leaders about a succession plan for their recently deceased president. At the second, we sat beneath banana trees as Modeste interviewed members of a cooperative applying to formalize its relationship with GHI. At one point, Modeste asked cooperative members what they wanted to learn. Their first response? Business.

On Thursday we’ll return to the first cooperative, where the field officers we’ve been training at GHI headquarters will practice what they’ve been learning.

Rwiyemeza mikimo w’ikirenga utagira n’inkweto

NDERA, Rwanda – We dived straight into lessons here at Gardens for Health International (GHI): six Barefoot MBA topics for GHI’s field officers and a little Kinyarwanda for me. Sunday, GHI’s program associate, facilitated both.

Today was the first day on the job for the five field officers, whose energy brought to life their afternoon of lessons. GHI selected the field officers from a pool of 160 through process that, based on field officers’ questions and insights today, was much more rigorous than the Barefoot MBA.

Sunday spent the summer adapting and translating the Barefoot MBA, so after a brief run through this morning, he was ready as scheduled to teach the field officers. We’re teaching ten Barefoot MBA lessons to the field officers, who later this week will teach three to cooperative members.

The field officers listened intently as Sunday taught profit, saving and investing, the three lessons they’ll teach in the field this week. They actively participated in the investing activity, which showed month-by-month growth of the dodo vegetable (sprouts can be sold for up to double the cost of seeds), hens (produce 30 eggs a month, which can be sold for 80 Rfw apiece) and rabbits (multiply like rabbits!). They understood that saving cash can be safe, especially in the short term, but does not generate value over time. They picked up on the seasonality of a dodo investment. And they pointed out that rabbits multiply so quickly that their seller might not be able to find enough willing buyers.

Reassured that they’d practice teaching profit, saving and investing to each other before heading to the cooperatives, the field officers were ready for more. Sunday taught them spending, planning and records, and production, which they picked up just as quickly as they did the first three lessons. He gave a quick overview of the lessons we’ll teach next and then asked the field officers if they had questions.

“What is MBA?” they asked. Sunday explained. The group was amused as it tried to translate ‘Barefoot MBA’ into Kinyarwanda, not a simple task here, where brevity and MBAs are rare. Their solution was my first lesson in the local language: rwiyemeza mikimo w’ikirenga utagira n’inkweto, which literally means a master good entrepreneur with no shoes on. I told them I’d rather start by learning the word for ‘thank you’: murakoze.

Maker Faire Africa: Lessons, day 2

NAIROBI – A few minutes before our stated start time of 10 a.m., our tent was empty. Well, except for a few chairs. The rain had just passed, and makers were still setting up. Some asked if they could use our chairs at their booths. They saw no signs of a workshop.

But this is Kenya, and things here run on Kenya time. Our workshop was no exception. We delayed our start time to 10:30, and then 11, and by 11:15 a handful of people had gathered – not as many as we hoped, but enough to start teaching. By 11:25, every seat was filled. By 11:30, people brought their own chairs. We were finally underway.

Like yesterday, we started with pairs of contrasting stories that are the core of the Barefoot MBA lessons. And like yesterday, participants caught on right away: Production is important because it adds value and allows sales at a higher price, leading to higher profits. Marketing is about understanding wants and needs; if a customer understands why he needs a product, he is more likely to buy it.

Also like yesterday, we illustrated the lessons with an activity adapted from our initial pilot in Thailand. This time, two teams made and sold bicycles to each of six buyers with specific demands. We limited the production capacity of each team, and at first each wanted to produce as many generic bicycles as possible. One team quickly shifted strategy, though, choosing instead to sell fewer high-quality, customized bicycles at a higher markup – and eventually outselling the other team. The different strategies led to a discussion afterward of specialization versus diversification. Ultimately, the conversation returned to marketing.

Participants applauded when the session concluded, and we thought we were done. Then came the best illustration yet of Kenya time: just as we wrapped up, a handful of our most engaged students from yesterday approached our tent and asked when today’s session would begin.

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.

Kenya: Ready for a big day

NAIROBI – Tomorrow is a big day here in Kenya.

The country will celebrate the promulgation of its new constitution in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators and dignitaries like Kofi Annan. And at the University of Nairobi, Maker Faire Africa will begin. MFA is expecting some 100 makers – innovators, inventors and other creative entrepreneurs – for two days of idea sharing and community building.

This afternoon, the grounds for MFA were but a collection of tents on a flat campus field. Tomorrow, those tents will be transformed, many into exhibition space. One tent already has an official “Business Corner” banner, formalizing a two-day home for the Barefoot MBA. Joy and I will spend the morning talking to makers so that after lunch we’ll be ready to teach our first lessons, on saving and investing.