2018

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.

If you’d like to help, or know someone who might, please e-mail us at info@barefootmba.org. You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Tenth anniversary

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.

If you’d like to help, or know someone who might, please e-mail us at info@barefootmba.org. You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

2017

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.

If you’d like to help, or know someone who might, please e-mail us at info@barefootmba.org. You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Fifth anniversary

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).

Our social media efforts on Facebook (become a fan!) and Twitter (become a follower!) 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 look forward to more progress in the next five years.

Kenya: Working alongside entrepreneurs

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.

2011 in review

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.

In 2011, we reported progress on existing partnerships in Rwanda and Rhode Island. Behind the scenes we continue to explore additional partnerships (and welcome your ideas). As 2012 begins we look forward to sharing updates from two trips run by the Stanford program that first supported us, one teaching Barefoot MBA lessons in Kenya and the other visiting the Thai social entrepreneur who inspired our work.

As always, we welcome updates on how others are using the Barefoot MBA.

We also reiterate our 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 info@barefootmba.org.

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

Barefoot MBA goes back to Kenya

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.

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 info@barefootmba.org.

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!

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.

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.