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.

Wow.

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.

Wow.

Third day in Bacolod: Teaching begins

Barefoot MBA group - Philippines
Barefoot MBA group - Philippines

BACOLOD CITY – The excitement in the room today was palpable as participants became teachers of the Barefoot MBA for the first time.

They eased into teaching, first by getting comfortable standing in front of a room during the daily morning review of what we’ve learned so far. Some didn’t need to acclimate: asked to teach others what they’d learned, they put on a lively skit mimicking a local newscast. Smiles turned to giggles turned to laughs as participants demonstrated how much they’d internalized the workshop so far.

With energy levels high, participants articulated how to keep their students engaged: stand up, make eye contact, apply lessons to students’ lives, smile. (This is, after all, known as the city of smiles.) After a couple role plays as students while we taught lessons from the Barefoot MBA, participants were eager to take center stage again.

Participants spent the afternoon preparing to teach in small groups the lessons they adapted yesterday, which last night we retyped and augmented with discussion questions. With props, games and pizzazz, groups taught their fellow participants about production and price and competition. Though their lessons were identical in some cases, pedagogies differed, underscoring the Barefoot MBA’s flexibility and adaptability – and reminding us how far we’ve come. Students articulated what they learned: know your audience, make them comfortable, be prepared, be flexible, don’t be distracted by details, practice. Practice, practice, practice.

Tomorrow we’ll continue to practice teaching, giving students as many opportunities as possible to practice what they’ve been learning before heading into the field on Friday to teach some of NWTF’s borrowers.

Second day in Bacolod: Adaptation

Participants adapt the Barefoot MBA
Participants adapt the Barefoot MBA

BACOLOD CITY – Day 2 was livelier than Day 1, due at least in part to additional comfort and interaction among participants. Today’s topic was also more tactical: We spent today adapting the Barefoot MBA to local specifications.

We designed the Barefoot MBA to be adaptable to anyone, anywhere, but the lynchpin of its success depends on the quality of its adaptation. Today was participants’ opportunity to demonstrate their local expertise and apply it to their clients’ businesses. They were quick, sharp and eager – and by the end of the day made real progress toward adaptations to use with their clients.

After reviewing yesterday’s learnings, we started the day with an overview of how to adapt the Barefoot MBA’s lessons. Using lessons included in our adaptation guide, we talked with participants about key issues to consider when adapting the Barefoot MBA’s lessons: What names are relevant? What businesses are appropriate? What market prices make sense to locals?

Participants adapt the Barefoot MBA
Participants adapt the Barefoot MBA

As a group we adapted three sample lessons: saving, investing and spending. We replaced Thai names, items and prices with blanks. We then filled in the blanks one by one, Madlib style. Participants were comfortable adapting the stories by lunchtime and spent the afternoon working in groups of two or three to adapt the remaining stories to local specifications. By the end of the day, each small group had adapted three to five stories, and collectively we completed two full Philippine adaptations and made significant headway on several more.

We spent a long evening inputting participants’ handwritten worksheets, quickly understanding teachers’ appreciation for neat handwriting. By midday tomorrow, we’ll distribute to each group a customized adaptation based on their work today so they can practice teaching lessons most applicable to their clients.

First day in Bacolod

Philippines welcome banner
Philippines welcome banner

BACOLOD CITY – A large, bold banner at NWTF’s training facility extends a warm welcome to us and the Barefoot MBA. An hour before our scheduled start time today, we arrived to a large multipurpose room – and a handful of students eager to get an early start. We were off to a good start.

Our participants come from a host of organizations in the Philippines plus one in Cambodia. They represent a mix of ages, genders and locations, emphasizing that the Barefoot MBA can apply to anyone and that we all learn from each other. Some knew little about the Barefoot MBA besides its name. Others had poked around our website. At least one had even become a fan on Facebook. All were curious to learn more.

And learn they did. We spent most of the morning giving an overview of the Barefoot MBA and each of the seven topics we’ll cover this week: Student selection, lesson selection, timing and schedule, adaptation, teaching lessons, measuring student outcomes, and follow up / monitoring progress. By the time the participants articulated their takeaways from the morning, it was clear just how much we’d conveyed in a short period of time. Different students have different needs, one participant said. The Barefoot MBA is for everyone, said another. We couldn’t disagree.

We spent the afternoon on student and lesson selection, grouping the participants by organization so they could discuss how to apply their learnings to their clients. Participants saw that though their organizations and clientele differ, some themes were common. They saw, for example, that farmers and manufacturers have different learning needs and that it’s hard to learn investing without first understanding saving.

After a review of the day’s lessons, we enjoyed dinner as a group at a local seafood restaurant, where several NWTF board members joined us.

Ready for the Philippines

Our schedule is set: A week from today, we’ll start a four-day train-the-trainers workshop in Bacolod City, the Philippines, for about 40 MFI representatives from the Philippines and Cambodia. We’ll give conceptual and hands-on exposure to our basic philosophy, adaptation, and teaching so participants leave ready to implement the Barefoot MBA with their home organizations. We look forward to meeting the lenders and getting started!

We hope to send updates from the ground and encourage you to follow along, via blog, Facebook (become a fan!), and/or Twitter.

Second anniversary

As we mark the second anniversary this month of our Thai pilot, we’re excited to announce a return trip to Southeast Asia with the Barefoot MBA, this time to a train-the-trainers workshop in the Philippines next month. Thanks to support from the Global Initiative to adVance Entrepreneurship (GIVE) and the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF), we’ll work with representatives from microfinance institutions in the Philippines and Cambodia to adapt and implement the Barefoot MBA. Stay tuned for more details as we finalize them.

Confirmation of our Philippines workshop caps off a year of progress for the Barefoot MBA — and represents how far we’ve come. Since our first anniversary, we’ve continued to broaden and deepen our partnerships with micro-lenders and other organizations with access to entrepreneurs hungry for basic business education. For example:

  • Our original partner in Thailand, PDA, successfully finished a full Barefoot MBA implementation in Lamplaimat, where our original pilot occurred, and is considering new ways to expand and customize the program in other villages.
  • In Guatemala, we strengthened our partnership with a local university and Grameen Bank through teaching the Barefoot MBA’s lessons and translating them into the local dialect to improve efficacy, thanks especially to the tireless efforts of a recent Stanford graduate through the winter of 2009.
  • A partner in India created the first of what we hope will be several adaptations for that country, demonstrating the power of collaboration and the potential of sharing.
  • We’re in the early stages of discussion with others, including some in Uganda, Cambodia and the United States, about how best they can use the Barefoot MBA.

As always, that’s just what we know. 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 continued support and feedback from you. In the meantime, we invite you to join our fledgling social networking efforts by becoming a fan on Facebook and/or following us on Twitter.

Training the trainers

Another update from Anita at PDA, this time on training the trainers, which will enable exponential expansion of the Barefoot MBA in Thailand:

On May 23-24, PDA ran a Train-the-trainer session of the Barefoot MBA. Fourteen PDA operations staff from three PDA centers were taken through the Barefoot MBA Phase I curriculum, both as participants and then as trainers to critique the lesson content and discuss training delivery. We will soon be ready to roll out training to villagers from around these three centers!

Full implementation in Thailand!

It’s a treat to hear from Anita, our Thai translator, steward of the Barefoot MBA at PDA, and general goodwill ambassador for the program. Anita and Laura, the PDA intern from Michigan State, have made great progress deepening and broadening the Barefoot MBA’s reach at PDA. We’ll post photos when they arrive. Meanwhile, Anita writes:

We have been busy working to dramatically increase the number of our Village Development Partnership (VDP) projects and engaging the private sector. … We are looking at incorporating the Barefoot MBA into our VDP model. As we give villagers access to credit to start/expand their businesses through the Village Development Bank, we also offer them skills to help them succeed in their businesses through the Barefoot MBA.

Laura and I just spent 3 ½ weeks in the PDA Lamplaimat center this March, where you were based last time. We went through the remaining 13 modules of the curriculum, along with Khun Prahat, the head of the VDP program (he was previously also the center director). Of these, we decided to discard 3 as they were already covered by other training run by PDA. Working with Somthin (who helped us last time), we adapted and translated the remaining 10 modules, grouping them into 4 learning sessions. Of these, we tested out 2 in pilot sessions, including as many people as we could from the first two pilot sessions. They were also a success, despite a massive storm preventing many of the participants attending the second session!

We are calling the sessions based on your curriculum “Barefoot MBA Stage 1: Introduction to Business” and this will be offered to all villagers who are interested in setting up/expanding a business, and to members of the Village Development Bank committee. We are incorporating two PDA training sessions, which teach how to write a business plan and how to create a budget over 1-2 days. These are very in-depth classes which are designed to give participants the actual tools they need to start a business, so we are only offering them to villagers who are very serious about setting up a business. We are calling these classes “Barefoot MBA Stage 2: Advanced Training.”

We won’t stop here. We will continue to work on expanding the Barefoot MBA at PDA to include “Study Abroad,” “Internship” and “Networking” stages.

As you can see, your work with us almost two years ago has been invaluable in helping us to get started on offering villagers what they desperately need: business knowledge and skills!

Barefoot MBA in India

We’re amazed at what can happen with a little patience. We’re happy to announce that we now have an adaptation for Rajasthan, India. While it may not fit the entire breadth of needs of such a large, diverse country, it is an answer to the requests we have received for adaptations in India.

This is yet another example of the collaborative work of individuals and the value of sharing the products of that work. We could not have adapted the curriculum withou sufficient knowledge of local customs, and Pulkit, the author of this adaptation, likely would have spent his time building a teaching tool from scratch.  As always, we encourage people to share their work, and we will continue to do likewise.

Thanks to Pulkit for his work, to those who have shared the lessons in the Barefoot MBA with others, and to those who share their adaptations with us.

Update from Thailand

Progress independent of our day-to-day effort continues, this time back in Thailand with PDA.

We’ve been in touch with Laura, an intern from Michigan State who’s expanding the Barefoot MBA’s reach in Lamplaimat, where we piloted the first lessons. During her seven-week internship, Laura has been adapting and implementing several lessons with PDA.

She writes:

The first three weeks of the internship I was working out of the PDA Bangkok office, and just getting acquainted with the organization. I made a couple site visits up here to Issan to check out some VDP villages. For the second half of the internship though, Anita and I have been making the trek to Lamplaimat for the past couple of weeks, and working on adapting/translating 8 more modules. In most cases we’ve combined at least two modules together, creating a session that covers two related topics. Because you guys have already created the lesson outlines, the hardest part has just been coming up with activities that will keep the villagers involved and hold their attention. For one of the lessons I wrote a skit about loans and interests, and we’ve made up an activity about selling fruit in the market to teach about specialization. I’m still working on writing examples for the Planning and Records lesson. We’ve created some basic charts to show the villagers, and we want to be able to walk them through how to keep their records using them.

Laura is keeping a blog complete with photos and stories that harken back to our time in Thailand. We look forward to her regular updates — and, ultimately, to her final report.

School’s out for the summer

Khun Mechai, Katherine, Scott

BANGKOK, August 3 – Our final meeting with Khun Mechai went well. In the lounge of the restaurant whose profits PDA uses to support programs for villagers like the ones we met, and using the bar’s television as a projector screen, we recapped our progress and takeaways for Khun Mechai and two of the PDA staff members with whom we worked closely.

We agreed that the pilot in Lamplaimat was a success and talked eagerly of ways to build upon the work we’ve done: teach more lessons, require the entire curriculum as a prerequisite to securing a micro-loan from PDA, collaborate with other organizations to strengthen existing efforts and expand to additional villages worldwide. If we didn’t have other commitments waiting for us at home, we’d tackle that list and more. With limited resources, we agreed to adapt our already written stories with market examples relevant to the villagers we met and to brainstorm ideas for additional activities that reinforce our stories’ lessons by engaging and involving students.

And so, like all good things, our time here must end. We are leaving Thailand but not the Barefoot MBA, PDA but not the mission it espouses. Our work here has been challenging and rewarding, eye-opening and inspiring. It’s been remarkable to watch this project evolve over the last seven months from an informal conversation on the beach to the most formal education a roomful of Thai villagers had seen in years. Despite not understanding more than a word or two from our students, the looks on their faces tell us we’ve created something worthwhile – and have a long way to go. We’ve learned from the villagers while they’ve learned from our curriculum and look forward to following their continued success. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions, as well.

This ends the regular blog updates (for now). Thanks for reading!

Last day of school

students, teachers and staff

LAMPLAIMAT, July 26 We’re amazed at how well the first day went. Having finished writing everything and testing it yesterday before class, we’re allowing ourselves a slow day that starts later than our usual 8 a.m. We spend our day finishing the agenda and timing the lesson plan, and we plan to meet this afternoon to discuss lessons from last night and the final plan for tonight.

We take to heart last night’s feedback that the lesson was too simple for some, too abstract for others and cross our fingers that tonight’s session, which incorporates two lessons and an even more interactive game, will cater to a broader range of backgrounds. We also update tonight’s game to reflect outcomes of its test, which indicated that we weren’t giving players enough supplies or sample baskets.

Shortly after the session begins, we’re surprised by a banner our hosts have created and, surreptitiously at first, hung in the room (see the new picture at the header of the page). It formally announces our project and serves as yet another tangible symbol of how our creation, merely thoughts just six months ago, has become something larger than the growing contents of our hard drives.

As the students arrive, they greet us with warm, appreciative smiles. They are more talkative and relaxed than they were yesterday. We also notice that Khun Sombat, whose diversified and very successful farm we visited last week and used to adapt several of our stories, is among our students. We’re honored that someone who is already a success, and from whom we stand to learn plenty, would take time to learn more, and from us.

As the last of the students finally enter, again at about 5:20, Khun Tom begins the session with another ice-breaker, this time a song in which participants fill in details of the chorus with different products that can be made with bamboo. We are even invited, through Anita’s translation, to come up with examples that had not yet been used. Despite the language barrier (we didn’t know the villagers’ previous examples) and cultural distance (using bamboo daily in Palo Alto isn’t exactly commonplace), we pass the villagers’ test (Scott’s example: bamboo forks, Katherine’s: bamboo scaffolding).

Anita translates for Katherine and Scott

Khun Prahat welcomes the group and begins the lessons and stories about marketing and production. The students again listen intently, knowing what format to expect and behaving in a way that suggests that, beyond polite respect, they find real value in the lessons we’ve written. As they discuss the lessons, what each participant did and how it improved business decisions and outcomes, they come up with a list of key points that look very familiar because they strikingly resemble the 4P and 3C frameworks we learned in our Core marketing course. (These frameworks are intended to help guide thinking about key factors in making decisions about any product. The 4Ps: Product, Price, Promotion, Placement in market. The 3C’s: Company, Competition, Customer.) Their shorter version contains Promotion, Product, Customer and Company – more than half of our list despite barely an hour, let alone two years, of business school.

Khun Tom introduces the next simulation. This one involves making and selling a product, bamboo baskets from strips of paper cut to mimic bamboo rods. He enthusiastically divides the group into three teams: one group of five customers who each will assume preferences and a budget, and two teams of five who will interview the customers, decide what to make and make it – all in 15 minutes. The production teams then will try to sell each product to the customers, who may buy the product from whoever met their needs. If the product doesn’t meet a particular customer’s needs, he may refuse to buy anything.

We were careful to introduce the exercise as a way of further understanding the details of lessons about successful production and marketing, not a juvenile arts and crafts project. Just as we did when faced with a similar simulation and explanation during pre-term two years ago, our students jump into the task with great effort, a large dose of creativity and broad smiles. They emerge excited and energized, ready to talk, more than they have been to date, not only about the lesson but about what they’ve learned from it.

One team produces in bulk, creating some 50 baskets cut from the paper bamboo. The other team makes more three-dimensional baskets, and consequently fewer total baskets. Their production styles are different, suggesting they are targeting different customers.

Production activity making baskets

When it comes time to sell, the lessons begin to emerge. Two customers’ basket specifications weren’t met, so only two buy baskets. One team sells raw bamboo rods, but only because it markets them better than the other team does. The teams quickly learn to differentiate themselves, not in their products’ prices, a quick way to eliminate any available profit, but in explaining how their products’ features meet their customers’ needs – exactly the combined lesson in production and marketing we had in mind.

Selling baskets

In animated Thai, the villagers discuss what worked and what didn’t – as producers, as marketers and as customers. After 10 minutes, their comments fill a two-by-two matrix that, with a few PowerPoint bells and whistles, could pass for one for which consulting firms have become notorious.

Takeaway matrix

Our students are beaming and excited for more. We are too.

We end the lesson with one last round of Q&A, but this time, the tables are turned – on us. They ask about the weather in California (cooler than here), the cost of a plane ticket to Thailand (more than the average annual wage here), what kind of farming we do at home (a houseplant or two?). They wonder why we smile so much. We are too elated to do anything else.

Q&A

We beam at the expressions of comprehension and gratitude written on the villagers’ faces and can’t help but reflect on how wonderful it is to watch what we’ve created morph from idea into reality. It’s taken a life of own. And they want more.

The first day was too easy, but they understand easy is where things start. They want the other 12 lessons – the ones we’ve put on hold for now. We have information to create them, but our time here is coming to an end.

We spend the holiday weekend reflecting (including writing this blog) and creating a final presentation and materials for PDA so they have at least these three lessons to integrate into their work. Now that we understand what it takes to adapt a lesson successfully to the environment here, our next major task, after we leave Thailand, is finding a way to complete the remaining 12 lessons. We will need to create lesson plans and make sure the new lessons work equally well. We plan to talk through details with Khun Mechai and the PDA staff at our final presentation and then search for resources to help us complete this project as we resume the other commitments in our lives.

First day of school

Barefoot MBA banner

LAMPLAIMAT, July 25 — Our students trickle in. They come from different villages, after work, after farming. They take motor-scooter taxi rides, ride their own scooters or get rides from friends or family members. As they arrive, Khun Tom keeps them entertained with jokes (not all of which elicit laughter) and discussions to get to know each other.

Icebreaker

When all 14 students arrive, we begin a few ice-breaker exercises intended to relax the group, acclimate them to a new environment and create a sense of membership among this otherwise separate group of individuals. They go through introductions, play a hot-potato-like game (instead of moving, a bottle of baby powder is passed around, and when it stops, that person applies a handful of baby powder to his own face or that of someone else). They smile and laugh as if they met long before they walked through the door minutes earlier. As they finish, Khun Prahat, the elder professor for the evening, introduces the evening, the lesson and us.

Scott and Katherine introduce the Barefoot MBA

We introduce ourselves and ask a few questions. How many are rice farmers (about 10 of the 14), how many have another business (6: working in a call center, electronics repair, growing fruit, growing vegetables, raising fish and frogs), how many are in debt (all, including, at the moment, the authors). With this common bond, we hope that the lessons will help the villagers grow their businesses, get out of debt and be more prosperous.

Khun Prahat introduces the lesson of the evening: investing.

Khun Prahat tells investing stories

As we follow along, partly through translation and partly through noting the timing, we’re struck by how the students are, well, acting like students. They take out pens and paper to take notes. They ask their neighbors clarifying questions. They ask questions of the professor. They answer questions from the professor. It’s a real classroom, and a real lesson – and only days ago it was just words on a computer screen and an empty multipurpose room.

Playing the investing game

After Khun Prahat tells and leads an initial discussion of the stories, Khun Tom again leads the students through an activity to make the investment lesson more real. He divides the students into groups (through a musical-chairs like activity) and assigns roles. In each of two rounds, four of the students play rice farmers with extra profit from their rice crop. Each has a choice of what to do with the same amount of extra profit: save it, grow more rice or invest in a number of different items, morning glory seeds to grow flowers, tadpoles to raise frogs, a baby pig to fatten into a sow or seeds to grow bean sprouts. Each investment has a different maturity length and thus can be sold at a different time and for a different price. Some players can choose to reinvest their additional profits or hold them.

Props

They engage in the game, seeing the different results and wanting to make other choices. At times they are prepared to make the game more sophisticated than we initially planned, like by having the morning glory investor invest in fish when morning glory season is past its prime. As they discuss the results, many are aware of the idea of investing as we’ve presented it but hadn’t thought of some of the examples. We discuss other options for investing extra profits, the pros and cons to different investments, the different seasons in which they are relevant and the pros and cons of long- versus short-term return.

Students listening

We step back a number of times to marvel at what we’ve created and how it is now alive, indestructible. Knowledge and information, now released into the open, cannot easily be undone. Knowing this, we’ve been a bit nervous that this wouldn’t work, that the students would be bored, withdrawn, insulted at the simplicity or cultural mistakes or oversights we’ve made. At some level, we partly expected some unforeseen error to grind everything to a halt. Remarkably, it didn’t. Instead, the lesson flows smoothly, the students are interactive, smiling and participating, and the teachers do an incredible job of managing the classroom and guiding this group through the first day of the Barefoot MBA pilot. Locals who, two weeks ago, had not met us have taken our ideas and brought them to life.

As the day comes to a close, our biggest takeaway is that the lesson was a bit too simple. The villagers want more practical skills about things like marketing and production. They want an instruction book, not ideas. They, like many students, want the answer, not the lesson. We’ve tried to provide a simple lesson, and, through activities with usable examples, very applicable activities to better understand that lesson, but we have intentionally stopped just short of providing instructions. Instead, we hope students will come to those on their own, through guided discussion at the end of every day. We also hope that tomorrow’s lessons on marketing and production will be a bit more challenging and more appropriately meet their needs.

We quickly realize that the students’ praise and asking for more extends beyond the gracious Thai culture. As we enjoy dinner together after the lesson, many of the students come up to thank us, either in Thai or a simple but telling English “thank you.”

It’s perhaps the most genuine and meaningful thanks we’ve heard.

Final preparations

LAMPLAIMAT, July 24 – We have an early start this morning, beginning to go through the lessons in English and Thai, make any final adjustments and then, as our educational experts remind us, face the 60 percent of teaching that is process: how the lesson is taught.

Our local advisors believe that teaching by story-telling, while interesting, hopefully memorable and not too long, might still be boring. To make the process more interactive than a story and a discussion are, we’ve decided that a game might help. And, in the area of learning business through a large, group game, Stanford has once again provided us with useful experience. (The first time many of us met at Stanford was at a pre-term session where we were assigned various roles in a group, and different groups competed against each other to produce and sell greeting cards. The discussions that followed covered topics from ethics to teamwork, planning to leadership.) Drawing from that experience, we’re creating two games, one for investing on the first day, and another that will incorporate two lessons, production and marketing, on the second day. Our goal is to turn the stories and discussions, which are still somewhat more conceptual than our audience would like, and add an aspect that is more applied, more tangible.

As we slowly go through the games, we review the overall learning goals (making sure they are consistent with the players’ goals) the rules, the answers to potential questions, and where we will and will not exert control of aspects of the games.

Final preparations - Lamplaimat

Anita, our incredible translator (and CSR officer at PDA), manages to facilitate the day in two languages, keeping all parties involved and informed. Before we even finish the first game, the PDA staff comes up with an idea for a second game that incorporates the marketing and production lessons into a game of making and selling baskets made of paper strips representing bamboo. We’re delighted to see how well this is coming together: Our lessons now have lesson plans, an outlined agenda and formal teaching notes – and, perhaps most importantly, the support of everyone involved.

Scott creates game pieces

Tomorrow we’ll finish writing the basket-making game and test it with some of the staff here at the Lamplaimat center. Then, at 5 p.m., the show begins: our students arrive and, ready or not, the Barefoot MBA leaps from the page and becomes real.

LAMPLAIMAT, July 25 – Our test with the staff goes better than we imagine. Their creativity and skill with scissors and pens produces paper baskets more intricate and functional than we would have expected. (We assumed they would draw, color and cut out basket shapes; instead, they assembled three-dimensional bags with staplers, tape and paper, including exterior pockets, multiple color options and different handle lengths.) The feedback we receive is helpful.The questions the staff members ask are insightful for what our activity contains and what it does not.

We spend the afternoon making a few revisions. Soon, 5 p.m. arrives, and, slowly, so do our students.

Context

LAMPLAIMAT, July 23 – After a four-hour van ride, we make it to Lamplaimat to learn that a nearby village is having the first meeting of its Village Development Committee, the group PDA gathers to lead a village’s Village Development Bank. (This is more relevant to our host organization, PDA, and its going into rural villages to introduce and encourage villagers to create their own banking system, grow their local economy and pull themselves out of poverty – a far more empowered state than calmly waiting for the next round of NGO handouts and tolerating illness, poverty, lack of education and deteriorating village social conditions. This isn’t a forum to detail PDA’s work, or our high opinion of what it’s doing, other than as context to testing our curriculum. For background on our project, see the links in the sidebar to the left.) We hope the meeting will provide further insight into the mindset of villagers who come together to lead new initiatives in their village and begin the journey out of debt and away from subsistence living. We’ve come to meet them, to listen to their questions of process of the formation of a community-owned village bank and to better understand the individuals who will be receiving a Barefoot MBA, or at least the precursor to such a degree (no, it’s not really a degree, but a set of concepts we hope will help in their pursuit of a better life).

Village Development Committee meeting

Lightning flashes in the distance. We listen as the villagers review the purpose of the 24-member committee and then discuss the specific responsibilities of each sub-committee. We hear their confusion about bookkeeping (our classmates had similar questions in Accounting), we see the youth committee’s enthusiasm about running a garbage recycling business (similar to our classmates who passionately chased idea after idea, trying to turn each into a profitable startup) and we saw the pointing of fingers as nobody knew who had the documents outlining how they planned to allocate the funds they would receive from the Village Development Bank (we’ve all had one of those moments).

Khun Prahat talks, Katherine listens

As bugs continue to swarm around the fluorescent lights above and fall into our juice, we’re struck by the similarities of questions heard at Stanford and those asked here tonight. That’s not a comment on either group; rather, it’s a somewhat reassuring notion that, separated by so many factors, we’re truly not that different after all. Sadly, we’ll have to have that comment translated to share it with the villagers.

Just before we break for dinner, around 8 p.m., another representative of PDA changes the topic to something more serious. Recently, a young teenager accidentally became pregnant, the young father to-be denied responsibility and her family disowned her. She’s gone to Bangkok, and that’s the last anyone’s heard from her. The message here is that safe sex and condoms do more than prevent disease; they also keep families and communities from breaking apart. And, just as PDA provides the tools for the villagers to improve their financial lives, PDA also provides the tools for these villagers to improve their health. Amazingly, the staff members of PDA have built up enough trust with these villagers that few are turned off by talk of safe sex and condoms.

They learn here together at this small community center, a 20-by-30-foot slab of dusty concrete with a tin roof, one exterior wall and fluorescent lights that’s used for everything from community meetings to yoga classes. Elders and teenagers come here, ask questions, listen intently and walk away prepared to take action to move the village in a new direction.

We have partnered with PDA because of the trust they have developed with villagers here and everywhere they work. The community-education model is one PDA has shown to be effective here and one we trust will continue to work as new lessons are taught to villagers, whether about community organization, health practices or business education.

Synthesizing information

BANGKOK, July 19 – Back from Buri Ram province in the northeast, we now face the challenge of distilling the stories we’ve heard and businesses we’ve seen into a few key differentiating factors. Condensing two years of Stanford Graduate School of Business into 14 lessons was enough of a challenge over the past six months. (For background on our project, see the About and Executive Summary links in the sidebar to the left.) We now have to fit the lessons we want to teach into two Barefoot MBA teaching sessions next week, two hours on Wednesday night and two hours on Thursday night. From the curriculum we’ve already developed and the new information we’ve learned here, we must determine what is most important for these villagers to know.

What knowledge makes a successful business stand out? Empirical studies fail to provide an answer and instead leave plenty of room on entire bookstore walls dedicated to key business secrets – which, amusingly, seem to change about every six months. We don’t propose to have any more of an answer than the authors of so many ephemeral best-sellers. Instead, we have focused on the differences between what the few successful entrepreneurs here do and what everyone else does. It’s a bit like looking through time, when life was simpler and these questions had clearer answers. What business practices are essential to bridging the gap between success and everyone else (not necessarily failure, but subsistence living that keeps many villagers living in poverty and debt)? What information will help these villagers see the first small steps to growing their business, rather than the large gap between where they are and where they want to be? What is the common practice that could use revision?

We found answers in our discussions with entrepreneurs over the past weeks. The differences come in subtle but noticeable lessons. The successful people break from common practice. They take profits from rice farming, use some to replant rice for next year and then do something different. They use the remaining profit to plant a new crop, raise a pig – or fish, or frogs, or fruit trees. They test their own products and try to improve them. They talk to customers to determine what they want and make products accordingly. They join together with other producers of similar goods to collectively bargain for lower transportation costs to get their goods to market. And, most remarkably, they have a very precise knowledge of the financial status of their businesses, both in records and in their heads.

Knowing this, we have narrowed our curriculum of 14 topics to 3 or 4 we think we can pilot next week:– Investing (business growth)

– Production (value-add services available to existing market products and materials) – Planning & Records (tracking investment and business growth)– Marketing (understanding customers, explaining a product to them)

We’ve changed the business examples in each lesson to correspond to best practices we’ve seen this week and changed the figures to correspond to local market prices. Our curriculum will be translated this weekend, and next week we head back to Lamplaimat to work with the PDA employees who know these villagers and will teach the curriculum. Together we’ll go through the lessons and think of ways to bring them to life for our students, through role playing, discussion questions or even the dreaded business school cold-call.

Meeting our students

We spent two days in the Buriram province, where seemingly endless rice paddies are just a piece of the primary industry here: agriculture. The Buriram province is 380 kilometers east northeast of Bangkok, 68 kilometers from the Cambodian border.

Villagers here in northeastern Thailand, Isarn in Thai, are among the country’s poorest. They rarely continue in school past sixth grade. They send family members away to earn money to pay debts, sometimes through prostitution. They resist trust, a result of too many broken promises from government and ephemeral NGO handouts. But their spirits are high, and with modest loans and business training, they are learning to be self-sufficient.

PDA runs three centers in Isarn, with programs ranging from environmental awareness to HIV and AIDS prevention to democracy and rural development to business development. (For more information about PDA and our project, see the About and Executive Summary links in the sidebar.) The range of programs, businesses and people we saw gave us insight into the changes we need to make to our curriculum before we pilot it here next week.

Their stories are in the posts below.