As students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, we participated in the school’s first Service Learning Trip to Thailand and Cambodia, where a 10-day glimpse into the poverty problem and several social entrepreneurs working to solve it inspired us to want to help. In particular, we were taken by the innovative approaches of Mechai Viravaidya, who in 1974 established the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) to free up resources for development by controlling population growth and has since expanded its successful activities to include poverty reduction and micro-credit.
We developed a basic business curriculum for rural villagers, a need that Khun Mechai identified and termed “Barefoot MBA” when our group visited PDA. Creating the Barefoot MBA integrated giving back to organizations that inspired us (PDA by sharing its innovative solutions to ending poverty and the Service Learning Program by making our trip possible) and serving as a capstone to our MBA experiences in general and a Public Management Program focus in particular. By carefully analyzing what Khun Mechai’s target population knows and needs in the context of what we know and how we learned it, we solidified our prioritization and understanding of business tools and concepts while sharing our resources with those who need them most.
Since our return to the United States, we scoured related materials and interviewed people with relevant knowledge to produce working drafts. We recognize, though, that there is no substitute for in-person learning. Thanks to the newly created Service Learning Summer Program, we returned to Thailand in the summer of 2007 to revise, pilot and implement the curriculum in villages in the Buri Ram province. Since then, we have been working with other people and organizations to pilot the Barefoot MBA around the world and presented our work at the Schwab Social Entrepreneurs’ Summit.
We look forward to your feedback.
Katherine and Scott