Malawi: Adaptation and first lessons

A microenterprise program in Malawi is using the Barefoot MBA for a two-part training session. A group at St. Gabriel’s Hospital Namitete adapted all the lessons to teach some 100 community healthcare workers and HIV support groups and translated at least six into Chichewa, the local language. Jasper, an intern for the hospital, is keeping a blog about his experience.

Jasper writes that the Barefoot MBA is immediately applicable to “teaching entrepreneurship in low-resource settings such as ours” and applauds its simplicity and comprehensiveness. He also details how the constraints his group faces makes the Barefoot MBA an ideal solution:

1. Despite the fact that we had conducted field research visiting the various HIV support groups, we still do not fully understand how much our students do and do not know. The flexibility and comprehensiveness of Barefoot MBA allows our HIV support group liaison (Angela) and community healthcare volunteer liaison (Alexander) to select the appropriate lessons based on their experiences with both groups.
2. Although we know that our students will have a primary-education background, we’re not exactly sure what that entails. The follow-up questions that Barefoot MBA has after each story demonstrating a concept gradually increase in difficulty, and this ensures that we can cater to the learning ability of all of our students.
3. It is a burden for HIV support group members and community healthcare volunteers to travel long distances to attend trainings at the hospital. Therefore, we are limited to 2 sessions that are 3 hours each. The flexibility and simplicity of each Barefoot MBA lesson allows it to easily stand on its own or in combinations. For example, if community healthcare volunteers need to come for a medical-related training at the hospital, a Barefoot MBA lesson could also be easily and quickly implemented at the end of the training.

First Malawian lessons
First Malawian lessons

At the first training sessions, which taught and reinforced basic business concepts, students embraced the lessons by repeating the stories, which Jasper writes is typical of the Malawian learning style. Students engaged in energetic discussion about the stories and topics. The next session will focus on implementing the concepts they learned at the first session. It will be taught in conjunction with receipt of a loan, which typically proves difficult because of logistical complications and stringent training and planning requirements. Jasper and his team hope the Barefoot MBA-based trainings help overcome the latter set of barriers and help their students receive and responsibly manage capital for their small businesses.

Upon completion of their training sessions, Jasper and his team plan to make their Barefoot MBA adaptation available to everyone. We plan to post it to this site when they do.

First Nicaraguan class today

Our partner in Nicaragua, Casas de la Esperanza, holds its first class today. Amy-Ruth and her team narrowed the curriculum to eight lessons, which we plan to post along with photos after the class. Amy-Ruth expects about 10 students from a range of backgrounds, including a 60-year-old with a very basic education who sells chicken and a 17-year-old who wants to be a tour guide.

More progress in the Philippines: “The program is working!”

Our partners in the Philippines, the Global Initiative to Advance Entrepreneurship (GIVE) and the Inner-City Development Corporation (ICDC), report that the Barefoot MBA has reached 1,700 microloan recipients — and that 40% of those have increased their savings. They extol the modular nature of the Barefoot MBA as critical to their progress, especially as circumstances changed when strong typhoons hit the Philippines shortly after we left:

Many of the Filipinos who receive microloans had to empty any savings they had in the wake of last winter’s typhoons. With huge sections of Manila damaged or destroyed, residents often had to spend everything they had to get food, water, and shelter for their families.

Because savings accounts looked so depleted, ICDC tailored the Barefoot MBA lessons toward helping loan recipients save money. One of the benefits of the program is that it is modular, so MFIs can tailor the training they offer to the specific needs of the community they’re in. This flexibility makes the Barefoot MBA ideal for a number of situations because it can be relevant to all of them.

In case you’re wondering, the program is working! 40% of the 1700 people trained this year have increased their savings. With this kind of response, ICDC and GIVE are excited about what could happen when they start teaching the other modules in the program, probably sometime this winter.

We’re thrilled by the progress our partners are making and look forward to even more.

Third anniversary

This month marks the third anniversary of our first pilot — and an opportunity to summarize and share our progress in the last year:

  • Completed adaptations: We’ve worked with partners in the Philippines and Rhode Island to adapt the Barefoot MBA and develop multi-day workshops. In both places, the Barefoot MBA has extended beyond the original training group: In the Philippines alone, it’s on track to exceed 3,000 recipients
  • Adaptations in progress: We’re working with partners in Kenya, Nigeria, Nicaragua and India to adapt the Barefoot MBA to local specifications. In addition, a partner from our Philippines workshop hopes to run a similar training in Cambodia
  • Expert advice: We regularly share advice and input for complementary work. This winter, our input was included in a Columbia Business School team’s report on mobile learning for Frogtek
  • New partnerships: We are exploring partnerships in China, Rwanda and a U.S.-based organization that works on three continents. We are eager for new partnerships, especially in geographies we have not yet touched
  • Press coverage: The Brown Daily Herald covered the Barefoot MBA’s partnership in Rhode Island. Echoing Green and a Brown newsletter profiled Katherine’s Barefoot MBA experience
  • Videos: We’ve (finally!) posted videos that the Stanford GSB created when the Barefoot MBA was in its infancy

As always, that’s just what we know. Our social media efforts on Facebook (become a fan!) and Twitter have expanded our reach to new people and places. Our blog-turned-website continues to get hits from every inhabited continent, and we continue to hear second- and third-hand of others adapting the Barefoot MBA to their needs.

We look forward to another year of progress ahead — and, as always, to your continued support and feedback.

Nicaraguan adaptation

The Barefoot MBA has made it to another new country, Nicaragua, where a volunteer at Casas de la Esperanza is adapting it for cafe owners, seamstresses, taxi drivers and other entrepreneurs in and near Granada. The volunteer, Amy-Ruth, hopes the Barefoot MBA boosts students’ understanding and confidence to sustain their businesses. She is starting her adaptation based on the Guatemalan version of the Barefoot MBA and plans to run a workshop this summer. We look forward to updates then and along the way.

Update from the Philippines

We caught up with one of our partners in the Philippines, the Global Initiative to adVance Entrepreneurship (GIVE), which shared progress there and in Cambodia.

Urban Entrepreneurship Center

In the Philippines, GIVE and the Inner City Development Corporation (ICDC), one of the participating organizations in last year’s train-the-trainers workshop, have set up an entrepreneurship center in Manila that provides, among other things, Barefoot MBA lessons. The center is set up as a co-op, with a membership cost of $20 payable via microloan. Of the borrowers, 40% are single mothers; the co-op provides child care.

Zeny, one of our participants in the Philippines, is leading the charge for ICDC, which so far has trained more than 1,700 borrowers with the Barefoot MBA. She has noticed increased savings rates among participants, and GIVE is helping to collect supporting data. Zeny recently traveled to France, where she met with donors and shared the benefits of the Barefoot MBA.

GIVE sees a need for a similar center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In addition to looking into making that a reality, it hopes to run a training this fall similar to what we ran in the Philippines last summer.

We are encouraged by our partners’ progress in the Philippines and Cambodia and look forward to more to come.

African adaptation and summit

The organizers of a conference in Africa aimed at identifying, spurring and supporting local innovation are using the Barefoot MBA to help participants understand business basics. Maker Faire Africa brings together makers to drive and celebrate ingenuity, innovation and invention on the continent. MFA held a successful inaugural event in Accra, Ghana, last year and is organizing a follow-up event this summer with another in Nairobi, Kenya. We are working with MFA to give this year’s attendees — who largely have relatively low levels of formal education, live in rural areas and have businesses at varying levels of development — the knowledge they need to solve problems themselves. We also hope to attend the event.

Second partner in India

We’re tickled when partners come to us with applications and adaptations of the Barefoot MBA. This time, our newest partner is the Anudip Foundation, an NGO that provides livelihood opportunities for marginalized rural communities in India. Jessica, an American India Foundation Clinton Fellow, is using the Barefoot MBA for a micro-entrepreneurship development program. She wrote:

I adapted Barefoot’s material on personal budgeting and spending and added it to our Basic Course. We teach a module on the Basics of Business and go through very high-level topics such as what is a bank account, why is saving important, what is a personal identification card and how do you write a check. We also have an Entrepreneurship Development Program, in which we give workshops to Anudip’s aspiring micro-entrepreneurs covering topics such as what services are needed in your area, budgeting, marketing, attracting customers, etc. We adapted your material on cost-benefit and savings and included two of the activities from the India – rural material.

Jessica shared the energy and excitement generated in a recent workshop in a remote, rural community on the banks of the Sundarbans, three hours from Calcutta, illustrating the importance of skills building and in micro-entrepreneurship as a viable livelihood.

We’re heartened that our work is making a difference and look forward to working with Jessica and Anudip.

Nigerian adaptation

YouthBank, a small business incubator for street youth in Nigeria, is using the Barefoot MBA as part of its training for former street youth seeking microloans to start businesses. YouthBank cultivates former street youth to become independent business owners and create opportunities and jobs for other street youth. It launched its first incubator in Lagos last year and seeks to replicate its model around the world. A YouthBank team is adapting the Barefoot MBA for the first several weeks of a six-month curriculum, and though the adaptation is not yet complete, it’s received positive feedback in Lagos already.

We look forward to a strong and lasting partnership with YouthBank.

Rhode Island workshop update

The Capital Good Fund‘s workshop has been postponed while the staff identifies an appropriate group of participants. In the meantime, I caught up with our partners in Providence on their progress on other fronts, including a recent trip to Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, additional loans and plans to scale their model nationwide. We look forward to CGF’s continued progress and to returning to Providence to see the Barefoot MBA in action.

2009 in review

Three years ago this week, the Barefoot MBA began as but an idea. Since then we’ve come a long way.

2009 in review:

And in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, some for the Barefoot MBA:

  • Expand to other countries and continents, notably Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East
  • Solidify presence in existing geographies, including the United States
  • Update our website (we’re trying! can you help?)
  • Measure results of existing adaptations, especially in Thailand and the Philippines

Happy new year!

Successful Rhode Island workshop

The Capital Good Fund, our partner in Rhode Island, successfully finished its first business training workshop, a five-session course for prospective loan recipients and other business owners. All participants said they’d recommend the course to a friend, and nearly all said they’d be interested in an advanced course.

Capital Good Fund workshop participants with their graduation certificates and staff

The Capital Good Fund has taken participants’ feedback to heart: come February, The Barefoot MBA adaptation will become a level one course as it develops a level two for more advanced entrepreneurs ready to complete a formal business plan.

Rhode Island implementation

We’ve worked with the Capital Good Fund, a non-profit microlender based in Providence, R.I., to adapt the Barefoot MBA for immigrants and other prospective borrowers. Capital Good’s five-session weekly workshop, taught in Spanish, teaches several of the Barefoot MBA’s lessons (e.g., saving, profit, marketing, cost-benefit analysis) and reinforces concepts with activities just as we did in Thailand. Capital Good’s adaptation incorporates green elements, consistent with its mission to “create a poverty-free, inclusive green economy through innovative microfinance.”

The workshops have been successful so far. Our partners at Capital Good Fund are at 14 participants and counting, and they continue to refine the workshops each week.

They write:

The first two workshops have been tremendous successes!  People have loved the simplicity of the lessons, and the activities that we came up with have really proved helpful to people. … Thanks so much–we are really thrilled with how this has been going!!

We’re thrilled too — and look forward to sharing continued success.

Mobile learning

We’re excited to work with Frogtek, which brings business tools to micro-retailers through mobile phones. Frogtek’s first product allows micro-retailers to record store revenues and expenses on smart phones. Its founder, David del Ser, is one of this year’s Echoing Green fellows.

We’re working with David and Frogtek to create a basic business curriculum that micro-retailers can teach themselves on their phones when they have downtime at their shops. We welcome suggestions, especially from those familiar with e-learning.

In the field: Teaching villagers

Teaching the Barefoot MBA to villagers
Teaching the Barefoot MBA to villagers

E.B. MAGALONA – Thursday’s ‘wow’ was premature. Friday’s field teaching in a small fishing village here demonstrated how far we’ve come in ways we couldn’t have dreamed of even a week ago.

Participants spent Thursday evening and Friday morning preparing the lessons they’d teach to villagers. Some drew pictures. Some wrote out simple math. Some tweaked content, replacing drought with typhoon to make a lesson relevant in a place that would not exist without fish farming.

E.B. Magalona, a fishing village in Negros
E.B. Magalona, a fishing village in Negros

And then we were off. We drove north of Silay through unpaved roads amid fields of sugar cane, arriving in this fishing village just in time for the loan officer’s weekly meeting. We gathered in a small hut as NWTF officers checked the progress of borrowers’ repayment, introduced our group, and eventually gave control to our participants.

We split into 4 groups of 10 to 15 villagers each. In those groups, something magical happened. In the native dialect, our participants patiently explained why they came. Villagers sat with rapt attention as they learned about debt, interest and saving. These were not necessarily new concepts, but presenting them in new light made them easier to grasp – and motivated the villagers to run better businesses, they said. Villagers understood the stories. The examples were immediately relevant to their lives. Asked what could have been better, they grinned. “Nothing.”

Teaching the Barefoot MBA to villagers
Teaching the Barefoot MBA to villagers

Our participants taught lessons we built in a paradigm they hadn’t heard of before Monday, yet their body language suggested comfort usually acquired over months or years. They left empowered to teach additional lessons to their own clients in the months, weeks and even days ahead. They walked away from the week energized by the difference they made for their borrowers just as we walk away energized by the difference we made for them.


Fourth day in Bacolod: Teaching and gratitude

Teaching the Barefoot MBA
Teaching the Barefoot MBA

BACOLOD CITY – We spent our last day in the classroom doing another round of practice teaching as a last hurrah before visiting a local NWTF center to teach three lessons to borrowers.

We’ve been purposefully nimble in structure the week, and today was no exception. Yesterday, participants told us they wanted more practice teaching. Today, after each small group presented once to half the participants, we divided the entire group into quarters, allowing each participant to practice teaching alone. Some used visuals. Some wrote out simple math. Some made skits. Everyone took a turn. Even the shiest participants taught, using small groups of supportive peers to overcome what in some cases was intense fear of public speaking.

Teaching the Barefoot MBA
Teaching the Barefoot MBA

We roamed as participants taught, but they so clearly demonstrated command of what they’d learned that it didn’t take long for us to essentially blend into the scenery. Participants took turns facilitating what their peers learned from each lesson, a role we’d played until now. Some took the final learning wrap up a step farther, synthesizing what they’d learned overall, not just from individual lessons. We’re excited to watch them in action tomorrow as they teach NWTF’s clients in a nearby town and look forward to reports of progress in their own communities later.

Teaching the Barefoot MBA
Teaching the Barefoot MBA

We concluded our classroom teaching with a lesson on measurement, discussing what participants can and already do track and how those metrics might change over time. The participant whose center we’re visiting tomorrow will start tracking right away; the others must wait until they get home. We look forward to meaningful, measured progress from all.

Our final review this afternoon quickly turned into a session of heartfelt gratitude, with participants sharing glowing testimonials that public relations professionals could only dream of. One called the Barefoot MBA a master’s degree less the formalities of a university degree. Another committed to implementing it with her entire training department. A third pulled us aside and quietly assured us that the Barefoot MBA was a critical solution for poor people – and that she’d already started sharing it with her counterparts at other organizations.