Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Big Ambition Coupled with Small Steps


Big Ambition Coupled with Small Steps


By Shelley Tennyson, Volunteer Program Manager


A few weeks ago, I shared with all of you the experience and incredible success of our first Business Training Program class through the post “Let’s Get Down to Business.” If you can recall, we were filled with excitement for the next few weeks to come and could not stop smiling on the bus ride back from our first meeting. While our enthusiasm and excitement has remained, our smiles have changed to a more pensive and concerned look…


We started out with lots of eagerness on the part of the women, with lots of desire to share what they are doing and the difficulties they run into as well as their pride in their work.  However, by the third meeting, reality set in. There were church meetings and festivals getting in the way of the schedule, and attendance dropped dramatically, to the point where we felt it was necessary to start again.  We decided to reach out to the women and create a more formal commitment; Lucy, a volunteer helping to run the business training, and the Director, Carlos went to the usual Tuesday collection meeting to see who wanted to participate, and 15 women made a solid commitment to come to 5 sessions.


Twelve women came to the first session, which talked about how to track income and expenses.  None of the women there had been doing this, and there was agreement among all that this is a very important first step.  Their homework was to set up a “cash book” in order to start tracking their income and expenses.  The next week, only 7 of the 12 showed up, and the first one to show was 20 minutes late.  None of them had done their cashbooks.  Thus, all we were able to accomplish was to have each woman set up a cashbook for the week from memory.


The next week there were two women, with a third showing up at the end of the meeting.  Granted, it was the beginning of Semana Santa (Easter week), but all had agreed the week before that the meeting day and time would be fine.  We decided to go ahead with lesson 2 on profits and losses, mostly to see if it would benefit the two in attendance.  It did, and we decided to carry on with those two in order to test the remaining lessons.


The problem?  There are lots of ideas surrounding the attendance of our business class.  First, these women are already stretched to the limit, working incredibly long hours for very little money.  Second, we are asking them to do something very foreign to them: write down what they make and what they spend.  They’ve been operating for generations without tracking anything, and asking them to change is not easy.  The third problem is that even though they’ve made a commitment to the classes, there are many competing community events drawing their attention.


The solution? Part of what we are trying to do here is to give the women a much better understanding of their businesses so that they can maximize their profits, earn more money, and be successful entrepreneurs. We decided that the benefits of such a program are invaluable and therefore should be mandatory. Any women applying for a second loan from us will now be required to attend and complete our 3 week Business Training Program. 


Probably the more difficult part will be to get the women to start tracking their income and expenses, and looking at their actual profits and losses. It’s probably a lot like people who go to Weight Watchers with great intentions, but who don’t really want to follow the diet after years of eating what they want.  Stay tuned for my next post, and we’ll see whether or not we are experiencing more success.

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