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.


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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.


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.