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.
Filed under: Africa, Asia, Background, Blog, Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Latin America, Malawi, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Philippines, Rhode Island, Rwanda, Thailand, Uganda
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.
Additional photos from the Stanford training in Kenya, courtesy of the Service Learning Program:
Stanford students spent part of their winter break teaching basic business lessons inspired by the Barefoot MBA, thanks to the program that initially supported us. Through Stanford’s Service Learning Program and ThinkImpact, which provides experiential learning opportunities in rural Africa, a team of 18 students traveled to the Coast region of Kenya to immerse themselves in local culture and learn about social entrepreneurship.
One student wrote:
For many of us, the major highlight of the trip was the two-day homestay within the Kaloleni community. We lived in small groups alongside community members to immerse ourselves in their day-to-day lives. We slept in thatched huts with mud walls and floors, sharing close living quarters with family members and farm animals alike. We carried water on our heads and ate local food that we prepared alongside the village women. We actively engaged with the community members, learning about their lives, small businesses, hopes and challenges. This experience culminated in a two-day service project in which we worked with community entrepreneurs to brainstorm creative ways in which they could grow their businesses. Many of us were surprised to find that we were able to offer insights into their businesses, and we were encouraged by the depth of relationships fostered between our two groups and within the community members themselves.
Entrepreneurs worked alongside the team in Kenya, as pictured below. We hope to post more details soon.
The Barefoot MBA has become part of the community at the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), Thailand’s largest NGO and our original partner. Lauren, a student on a Stanford trip there in late December / early January, shared a brief update. The Barefoot MBA is being used in 148 villages total, including as part of the Village Development Program in 71 villages and in school-based programs in 5 (growing to 13). Teachers at the Bamboo School, PDA’s high-performing school, are trained to implement it as well. Mechai Viravaidya, the founder of PDA and our inspiration, has prioritized education and improving conditions for the very poor. And the Barefoot MBA has become integrated in PDA’s overview presentation, so even those who are interested in PDA for other reasons still get a glimpse of our work.
Many thanks to Lauren for the update and photos.
Filed under: Background, Blog, Kenya, Rhode Island, Rwanda, Stanford, Thailand
Happy new year. This January update is our fifth since the Barefoot MBA became an idea to teach basic business to anyone, anywhere. That idea quickly became a curriculum, and that curriculum continues to touch every inhabited continent. Thanks largely to our partner organizations, we’ve reached tens of thousands of participants. And our numbers continue to grow.
In 2011, we reported progress on existing partnerships in Rwanda and Rhode Island. Behind the scenes we continue to explore additional partnerships (and welcome your ideas). As 2012 begins we look forward to sharing updates from two trips run by the Stanford program that first supported us, one teaching Barefoot MBA lessons in Kenya and the other visiting the Thai social entrepreneur who inspired our work.
As always, we welcome updates on how others are using the Barefoot MBA.
We also reiterate our plea to you, our readers, for two things:
- 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.
The Barefoot MBA is heading back to Kenya, this time via the Stanford program that first supported it. Through Stanford’s Service Learning Program and ThinkImpact, which provides experiential learning opportunities in rural Africa, a team of 18 students will adapt and teach the Barefoot MBA to entrepreneurs in the Coast region. We are excited to strengthen our first partnership and build a new one, a fitting celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Service Learning Trip that inspired the Barefoot MBA.