Barefoot MBA


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 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.

2009 in review
January 1, 2010, 11:08 am
Filed under: Asia, Blog, Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Latin America, Philippines, Rhode Island, Thailand

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!

Second anniversary
July 17, 2009, 3:34 am
Filed under: Blog, Guatemala, Philippines, Thailand

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.

Lessons continue, with music and local dialect
January 21, 2009, 12:04 pm
Filed under: Blog, Guatemala

Ottavio continues to send updates from Guatemala:

Students and Grameen bank micro-finance group

Today we began the first of a series Barefoot MBA basic business education courses with a group of Grameen Bank clients nearby Los Encuentros in Il Paraiso Guatemala. I, Ottavio Siani, and 3 students from the Universidad de Valle de Guatemala-Altiplano, Policarpo Chay, Josue Bocel, and Shirly Cano, arrived at 9 a.m. after searching for the small house where the Grameen bank meeting was taking place. We sat in for their biweekly micro-finance meeting, complete with the saying of the Grameen mantra. Oddly enough, in the background the radio was playing “Take Me Home Country Road” during their meeting and after we were introduced, “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival came on. (Seriously.) A better song could not have been chosen.

After a brief introduction, each of the 3 students taught one of the first three Barefoot MBA subjects, saving, spending and investing, taking questions in between subjects.

After the introduction we realized that though the group understood Spanish the classes would be much more successful if they were translated into Kaqchikel, the local Mayan language. Fortunately Josue speaks fluent Kaqchikel and was able to translate, which increased the amount of participation drastically. We finished in 45 minutes and, luckily, were asked to come back for their following meeting to teach opportunity cost and cost-benefit analysis.

We have begun practicing the next two lessons and are very excited for next week.

New year, new beginnings
January 1, 2009, 10:41 pm
Filed under: Blog, Guatemala

We begin the new year with exciting news about the Barefoot MBA: UVG will teach the Barefoot MBA to a group of Grameen Bank clients starting later this month. Our partners at UVG are excited, and we are too. As they prepare to continue the Barefoot MBA’s implementation in Guatemala, we’ve posted agriculture and tourism adaptations to the Curriculum page.

Best wishes for a new year of peace, knowledge, independence, health, prosperity, and success.

First classes in Guatemala
December 10, 2008, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Blog, Guatemala

It’s hard to think of a more rewarding gift than the following update from Guatemala. Just as parents smile from within as their children achieve first moments of independence – a first step, first sentence, first job – it is with great pride that we look back and see the Barefoot MBA beginning to take its first step of independence. Rather than spoil it with commentary, we include Ottavio’s e-mail, with his permission, here:

Teaching saving and investing in Guatemala

SOLOLÁ, Guatemala, December 9 – I am now at the beginning of my fourth month here in Guatemala. My Spanish has improved dramatically, which has allowed me to move around much more freely. Language is quite a powerful tool.

Finally, after much organizing, consternation, etc. (I have been wielding the phrase that you have used, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, like an ax) we have executed the first (saving, spending and investing) of a series of basic business education courses here at la Universidad de Valle Altiplano in Sololá. Nearly 40 people showed up and paid 10Q ($1.50) to attend the course. 34 of the 39 people were women; all owned businesses, and over half were teachers who said they were planning on bringing the lessons to their classes and homes. It really was a joy and fortunately there was a lot of interest in the rest of the lessons that the Barefoot MBA has to offer.

My biggest fear going into the day was that the lessons were going to be too easy. While I think that the lessons could have been a little harder (the next subjects are inherently more difficult), fielding a question about how saving money in a bank is useless because you can’t earn any interest reassured me that there was a need for this kind of education. After going over what the result of saving 50Q every two weeks for 10 years would be and how much interest you would earn from your savings (people were certainly shocked to see the results of this exercise) there was agreement that it was a good idea. The activities that we designed worked great (we broke into groups and proposed different scenarios and brainstormed how one should deal with them). Group participation, it seems to me, is very helpful.

Going forward, in addition to offering additional lessons on Saturdays, we are going to continue working with the Grameen Bank (the 10 or so other micro-finance organizations I met with are moving much more slowly. Processes with them are pending) in order to get a group of their clients to come to the university a few times to receive all of the lessons. We plan on using this group to help determine the effect this type of education has, if any. Hopefully we will be able to gather some anecdotal evidence that shows that the course is having a positive effect. Any advice on how to go about this would be great.