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Back in Africa, Part 6 – “The Facilitators Take Over”

My Team of Facilitators

As mentioned previously, I have a team of students from Strathmore University, one of the top   business schools in East Africa, helping me to facilitate the class. I have/had five students working with me: Ann, Kevin, Boniface, Vincent, and Gary. Nancy and I met them the weekend before the program started and they have, for the most part (see below) turned out to be a solid group of smart, young students. Of the five, only Ann is completing her masters; the others have either completed or are in the process of completing their undergraduate degrees. They were initially quite shy and quiet around me but have since opened up and been more relaxed.

At the end of the last session, I decided to assign a group of students to each facilitator to mentor them. For the first hour or so of each morning the mentors will be working with their students to work on the business plans and answer any questions they may have. It’s critical to continuously be working on their plans based on the workshops and feedback that they received. Writing good business plans is difficult, so I just encourage them to do they best the can and anticipate that they will struggle and get frustrated, but that we are here to help them through it. I am beginning to see that our constant reassurances and one-on-one interactions is paying off but the real test will be if we see solid business plans in the end. The feedback I have so far is that they appreciate the individual/small group attention.

First Up:  Kevin

Kevin led the marketing workshop and he covered not only the curriculum but also added material from his own marketing courses. One thing I learned is that there are 7 not 4 P’s of marketing: the other three are people, physical evidence, and process. I’m did not quite understand the part about physical evidence (or maybe I misheard) but it was interesting nonetheless. The other unexpected addition was the environmental analysis – normally we use PEST or political, economic, social, and technological – but now it’s PESTEL. The E and L stand for environmental and legal (I think). Kevin did a good job of introducing the components of marketing, which also included target market segmentation and marketing strategy, and even SMART objectives and competitive advantage. I tried to assist only when I thought I could help him along with examples or questions to the class, so for the most part, I left him to teach how he wanted.

Kevin also did a good job in applying the concepts and principles to one of the business ideas in the class (a kindergarten). The concept of a target market proved difficult to get across, however, because many of the students just assumed your target market is anyone who needs your product or service.  I was careful to spend a lot of time on this because unless you are clear as to who your customers are, it will be difficult to develop an effective marketing strategy and mix. Kevin did a good job of leading the class on defining the target market for the kindergarten so I was pleased to see that. Still, I expect that I will have to come back to this a few more times.

Managing the Facilitators

For the most part, I have been very pleased with my team of student mentors/facilitators because they’re very smart, capable, and engaged in what we’re all trying to do. I say for the most part because I had the unpleasant task of firing one of them today. Unlike the rest of the team, Vincent was not engaged at all – in fact, he was surfing the web on his cell phone during class discussion and actually fell asleep. His cell phone crashing to the floor woke him up. I told him after class that it was not personal and that it was just not a good fit. He stoically accepted the decision and left. I was a bit concerned about how this might affect the rest of the team but they supported it; Ann surprised me when she said that she’s a business woman who has fired people before and it’s “just business”. I asked Jose about Vincent’s stoic response and he said that it is typical of Kenyans not to fret or get overly frustrated with a particular situation. Generally speaking, he said that if one thing does not work out, they accept it, and then move on (to find another way to their goal).

Managing the Students

Managing the facilitators is one thing but managing the students is another. Lateness tends to be a chronic issue with the students and I dislike having to remind everyone about being prompt. I’m leaning towards not being bothering with tracking lateness and absences because for those who attend classes on time, they will receive more help. Ultimately, an entrepreneur must be self driven and for me to enforce attendance and promptness, well, will not likely improve their chances of success. Either they have “it” or they don’t. That said, one thing that I must enforce is  the completion of the homework. If a student does not complete their business plan then he/she cannot graduate. 

Revisiting Mission and Vision

One topic that I thought I would not have to cover is mission/vision statements because I had removed them from the resource guide and homework booklet. I edited them out because the information was incorrect and I thought (erroneously) why do they need them? You should have seen the enthusiasm and passion the students had for writing them. I remembered that Jose told me that many of them are discouraged by the lack of opportunities and so by allowing them to articulate their purpose and dreams was a powerful experience. One student, John, described how he wants to create a centre for disadvantaged youth to market their goods. In doing so, John aims to empower the youth, to provide them with the opportunity for a better life than one which could be afflicted by drugs and HIV/AIDS. It was clear that he feels a deep sense of purpose about the mission and vision – and it was amazing to witness it. One other student, similarly lit up when she was articulating her vision for a kindergarten that would provide esteem building activities and support. Her love and devotion to the children of her community clearly was the driving force behind her ambition. I told the class that, yes, you’re going into business to make money, but what is it that motivates you to do this particular business? Since we are teaching social entrepreneurship, I have realized that the mission and vision statements are personal and not just about the business. At the end of the class, two students shook my hand to thank me for teaching them about mission and vision statements (all those times I have gone through developing them for various organizations and companies paid off). Recalling the different business ideas, I see that many of them are rooted in community development and I could not help but smile when I listened to their dreams. As I mentioned before, the typical Kenyan education system is one where the instructor lords over the students, imparting knowledge but the students have little, if any, opportunity to engage the instructor. I see that having someone empathetically listen and support them and their dreams is having an impact, although it will take time to build that trust and comfort.

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