Barefoot MBA

Barefoot MBA goes back to Kenya
November 30, 2011, 8:21 am
Filed under: Africa, Blog, Kenya

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.


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

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
January 1, 2011, 7:40 am
Filed under: Africa, Asia, Blog, India, Kenya, Latin America, Malawi, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, Thailand, Uganda

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!

Maker Faire Africa: Lessons, day 2
August 29, 2010, 2:23 pm
Filed under: Africa, Blog, Kenya

NAIROBI – A few minutes before our stated start time of 10 a.m., our tent was empty. Well, except for a few chairs. The rain had just passed, and makers were still setting up. Some asked if they could use our chairs at their booths. They saw no signs of a workshop.

But this is Kenya, and things here run on Kenya time. Our workshop was no exception. We delayed our start time to 10:30, and then 11, and by 11:15 a handful of people had gathered – not as many as we hoped, but enough to start teaching. By 11:25, every seat was filled. By 11:30, people brought their own chairs. We were finally underway.

Like yesterday, we started with pairs of contrasting stories that are the core of the Barefoot MBA lessons. And like yesterday, participants caught on right away: Production is important because it adds value and allows sales at a higher price, leading to higher profits. Marketing is about understanding wants and needs; if a customer understands why he needs a product, he is more likely to buy it.

Also like yesterday, we illustrated the lessons with an activity adapted from our initial pilot in Thailand. This time, two teams made and sold bicycles to each of six buyers with specific demands. We limited the production capacity of each team, and at first each wanted to produce as many generic bicycles as possible. One team quickly shifted strategy, though, choosing instead to sell fewer high-quality, customized bicycles at a higher markup – and eventually outselling the other team. The different strategies led to a discussion afterward of specialization versus diversification. Ultimately, the conversation returned to marketing.

Participants applauded when the session concluded, and we thought we were done. Then came the best illustration yet of Kenya time: just as we wrapped up, a handful of our most engaged students from yesterday approached our tent and asked when today’s session would begin.

Maker Faire Africa: Lessons, day 1
August 27, 2010, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Africa, Blog, Kenya

NAIROBI – The 100 or so makers here at Maker Faire Africa come from all over the continent, largely from Kenya but also from countries like Burundi, Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa. Their products span a broader array, from hand-crafted mobiles to water pumps, eggshell art to stoves made from burning trash.

But at the Barefoot MBA workshop, participants had a singular focus: learning basic business. Our first day’s session taught profit and investing using stories and an interactive activity we adapted from our initial pilot, in Thailand. Our 25 participants engaged in the stories and actively participated in the questions that followed. They were enraptured, though, by the activity, which illustrates interest by showing the value of several equal investments over the same time period.

We developed the activity in rural Thailand, where participants playing the roles of customers invested in items that grew naturally, like seeds and baby animals. We hesitated to use agricultural examples here in Nairobi, preferring instead to use investments with which largely urban participants could identify. Joy suggested cement, and we demonstrated the concept of investment by having participants invest in cement mix and two kinds of brick-making machines. (One participant still invested in nothing, retaining our control case.)

Participants understood immediately; later, those who walked by our workshop said they could tell by body language and laughter alone that participants were learning.

In the discussion that followed, participants answered our questions and asked some of their own. When asked for other examples of investments they’d made, one even said he just sold eight cows, six more than he bought several years ago. When someone else asked what he should invest in next, we underscored the importance of investing in familiar areas – imagine if someone who’d never seen a cow suddenly owned eight or even two.

Overall, feedback was positive. A participant from Burundi asked how he could use the Barefoot MBA at home. Others said they’d bring their friends to tomorrow’s session. And we heard later from event organizers that people asked why we weren’t teaching the other fourteen Barefoot MBA lessons.

Come back tomorrow for two more, we said. And then enjoy the rest of Maker Faire.

Maker Faire Africa: Photos, day 1
August 27, 2010, 10:34 pm
Filed under: Africa, Blog, Kenya

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Kenya: Ready for a big day
August 26, 2010, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Africa, Blog, Kenya

NAIROBI – Tomorrow is a big day here in Kenya.

The country will celebrate the promulgation of its new constitution in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators and dignitaries like Kofi Annan. And at the University of Nairobi, Maker Faire Africa will begin. MFA is expecting some 100 makers – innovators, inventors and other creative entrepreneurs – for two days of idea sharing and community building.

This afternoon, the grounds for MFA were but a collection of tents on a flat campus field. Tomorrow, those tents will be transformed, many into exhibition space. One tent already has an official “Business Corner” banner, formalizing a two-day home for the Barefoot MBA. Joy and I will spend the morning talking to makers so that after lunch we’ll be ready to teach our first lessons, on saving and investing.