Happy new year! We mark the start of each year with a reflection of how far we’ve come: It was over the New Year’s holiday that the seed for the Barefoot MBA was planted, in 2006-07. Since then we’ve reached every continent, including our first website hit from Antarctica last month.
In 2019 we gave our website a much-needed facelift, maintaining its content but reorganizing to make it more quickly and intuitively accessible even on the most stubborn connections — critical as the Barefoot MBA becomes more and more self-sustaining. Even as our hands-on involvement has declined, our mission and commitment remain as strong as over that New Year’s 13 years ago.
Our hope for the coming year is that our tool continues to reach entrepreneurs who need it — and that you continue to share with us stories of how it does so we can share them here.
Our hypothetical sewing machine example has become reality yet again. When we created the Barefoot MBA, we created and frequently told the story of a hypothetical seamstress who could exponentially increase productivity if only she had the tools to think about how — it wasn’t just the speed at which she could sew additional pants but also the wherewithal to think about sewing shirts too.
That was 2007. Over the years the story has resonated with our borrowers and also sophisticated social entrepreneurs.
We made it a reality by participating in a Kiva loan to Lisney, a dressmaker in Colombia, to buy a sewing machine and build her business. Lisney repaid her loan in full, and we have subsequently loaned to Vitolia in Samoa and Maria Esperanza in El Salvador (twice!), all to support sewing machines. We also have loaned to Shoira in Tajikistan, another seamstress, to buy a car for her husband so he can work as a taxi driver and generate a second income for their family. All have repaid or are on track to repay their loans.
We support these seamstresses not just for their sewing abilities but also for their ability to think beyond their machines and materials to create better lives for themselves and their families.
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.
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.
Lisney, the dressmaker in Colombia whose Kiva loan we supported, just made her final payment.
In late 2015, we were part of the $400 Lisney borrowed to buy a sewing machine, a story that mirrored the hypothetical example we shared in the early days of the Barefoot MBA to demonstrate why it was important. Like the hypothetical seamstress in our example, Lisney wanted a sewing machine to make more clothes — and to gain access to the business world and to training for entrepreneurs. Ultimately Lisney wants not just a successful business but also to educate her daughters and buy a home.
In March 2016, Lisney started repaying her loan. Her repayments were consistent for the first few months but then tapered off and eventually stopped by the end of the year. She was in danger of default. This week, the rest of Lisney’s loan was repaid in full.
We are proud to be part of Lisney’s story and thrilled to bring to life a story that once existed only in our imaginations. Thank you, Lisney.
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.
We recently made a small loan to Lisney, a dressmaker in Colombia, so she could buy a sewing machine and expand her business. But this was no ordinary loan.
In the early days of the Barefoot MBA, we frequently explained our vision with a hypothetical story about a sewing machine. Imagine, we would say, that you are a skilled sewer. Your family’s financial future depends on your small sewing business. You sew a few pairs of pants per day, earning barely enough to cover your costs and taking home very little. You borrow money for a sewing machine, thinking that will allow you to sew more pants. It does. But the sales don’t come. It soon becomes clear that the market is not large enough to support another pants business. Now, you have to repay your debt in addition to supporting your family.
What if this situation could be avoided? What if the entrepreneur in this case understood the relationship between price and supply? What if she used the same machine to instead make shirts if that’s what the market was missing? Understanding basic concepts could empower even the world’s smallest entrepreneurs to make better business decisions and provide better lives for themselves, their families and their communities.
Nine years ago, we conceptualized the Barefoot MBA to do just that. A few months later, we created the sewing machine example to illustrate our idea to a community of leading social entrepreneurs. Recently, we stumbled upon Lisney. And couldn’t wait to help.
We are proud to give with purpose to help Lisney fund her loan. We are pleased to count Kiva, Lisney’s lender, among our early supporters. We are heartened to see that Kiva has a partner in Lisney’s case that provides business training.
Thank you, Lisney, for making our hypothetical story a reality heading toward a happier ending. Happy new year.
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).
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:
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you haven’t already, feel free to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
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.
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.
After four weeks of classes, the first Barefoot MBA course in Nicaragua wrapped up with great success. Amy-Ruth and Enrique write:
The last week of the course was great fun. We did a 2 part class of Profits and Planning-Recording. There were a few keen learners in this and you could hear the clogs turning in their heads! At one point Marco, who I was sitting next to and is a 63 year old ex-farmer turned café owner, said ‘yo entiendo’ meaning, ‘I understand’. That was something pretty cool I thought. He was trying to work out that, if he makes a 300% profit on the ingredients of his drinks then why isn’t he a millionaire by now… The class were put to the task of working this out and answers started flying our way ‘because he has to pay rent’ was one response ‘because you need to have electricity to keep ice frozen’ was another response and they kept coming until we had filled the board. Profit became something different for everybody I think.
In the class of Planning and Recording the students were a bit apprehensive. Some struggle to read and write and I think that the idea of recording anything on paper is a bit scary to some. The examples made it easy to see the value in it but it was when Enrique put a real example on the board of the sewing ladies and things fell into place. You know that there’s real interest when Silvia asked if she could please have a piece of paper so she could copy the example. That is the first time I have heard that here! I said we can do better than that and I presented everyone with their very own records book! Not the most exciting gift in the world but you should have seen their faces, it was classic! I think that it is not the value of the book, as that is only about $1, but it is the value of what they now know they can do with it that is worth so much.
Thank you very much to the Barefoot MBA team of Katherine and Scott for your help and your support. When we were looking at developing some sort of business course, the idea was just daunting! Then we came across your program and we have been excited about it ever since. Thank you again.
The Nicaragua adaptation is on our curriculum page. Amy-Ruth and Enrique also shared the application form they distributed to prospective participants.
Our partner in Nicaragua, Casas de la Esperanza, held another Barefoot MBA class last night. Amy-Ruth writes:
The group used lots of local examples which was great and captured everyones interest. Things like the cost of producing ‘fresco’, of making a pair of ‘pantalones’, creating ‘anillos’ and selling mobile phone top-ups. Having a good activity is key to everyone learning and enjoying themselves.
As we are going on further everyone is coming out of their shells a lot more, feeling comfortable with each other and with us too. One of the real benefits that we could see is that the members of the class will feel comfortable to ask the other members, in the future, for business help or advice.
We have also found that the more active we can keep everyone, the better. Nicaraguans are very expressive people and, although the group isn’t great with understanding the numbers side of business they love to act out situations. In the class we try and incorporate the hard figures of business while also adding a big element of activity and team work.
Note the children in the background of the photo below. As Amy-Ruth says, “here you can’t have a class without the kids coming too!” We look forward to more updates soon.
Our partner in Nicaragua, Casas de la Esperanza, holds its first class today. Amy-Ruth and her team narrowed the curriculum to eight lessons, which we plan to post along with photos after the class. Amy-Ruth expects about 10 students from a range of backgrounds, including a 60-year-old with a very basic education who sells chicken and a 17-year-old who wants to be a tour guide.
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
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
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.
The Barefoot MBA has made it to another new country, Nicaragua, where a volunteer at Casas de la Esperanza is adapting it for cafe owners, seamstresses, taxi drivers and other entrepreneurs in and near Granada. The volunteer, Amy-Ruth, hopes the Barefoot MBA boosts students’ understanding and confidence to sustain their businesses. She is starting her adaptation based on the Guatemalan version of the Barefoot MBA and plans to run a workshop this summer. We look forward to updates then and along the way.
Three years ago this week, the Barefoot MBA began as but an idea. Since then we’ve come a long way.
2009 in review:
First U.S. adaptation, by the Capital Good Fund in Rhode Island, whose version is also the first “green” adaptation, supporting the growing concern for and awareness of environmental impact of human activities
Partnership discussions with a range of organizations in the U.S. and abroad, including Frogtek (Latin America), Wokai (China) and the Grassroots Business Fund (Latin America, Africa, India, Southeast Asia)
Increased awareness, of the Barefoot MBA specifically and social causes and the benefits of financial education broadly. Established organizations like Goldman Sachs and Deloitte recently introduced related initiatives, adding credibility to an emerging field
We’re excited to work with Frogtek, which brings business tools to micro-retailers through mobile phones. Frogtek’s first product allows micro-retailers to record store revenues and expenses on smart phones. Its founder, David del Ser, is one of this year’s Echoing Green fellows.
We’re working with David and Frogtek to create a basic business curriculum that micro-retailers can teach themselves on their phones when they have downtime at their shops. We welcome suggestions, especially from those familiar with e-learning.
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.