Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Businesses and Non-Profits - Katherine Boas '02

Inspired by a meeting with the founder of Thailand's largest NGO, Katherine Boas '02 and Stanford business school classmate Scott Raymond created the Barefoot MBA, an adaptable tool to teach basic business to anyone, anywhere.

Microlending is hot these days. It's relatively easy to give and, increasingly, easy to get a small-scale loan to jump-start a business. But despite all that available financial capital, access to intellectual capital isn't as easy to come by. Or wasn't.

About four years ago, while on a business school trip to Thailand and Cambodia, Mechai Viravaidya, the founder of Thailand's largest NGO and a pioneer in microfinance, challenged us to find a better way. Wouldn't it be great, he wondered aloud to room full of Stanford MBAs, if we had a business curriculum that anybody could learn so people who receive these loans could use them wisely?

Over dinner that night, the Barefoot MBA was born. We spent the next few months creating the 16 lessons that would become the Barefoot MBA, working with experts in education and development to devise an elegant way to teach a common set of concepts to a range of people. Our solution? Stories.

Each Barefoot MBA lesson contains a pair of contrasting stories, each with a protagonist facing a business decision. The stories in each lesson are identical, except the protagonist in the second understands the lesson at hand and makes a different, better business decision as a result. The lesson is the difference between the stories. The format is simple – and requires no literacy or props, allowing the Barefoot MBA to go truly anywhere. And it has.

After a successful pilot on a return trip to Thailand in 2007, we've successfully adapted the Barefoot MBA with partners in places as far as Guatemala, India and the Philippines. Our latest adaptation is closer to home: Providence. We're working with Brown students and alumni at the Capital Good Fund on a basic business education workshop for immigrants and other prospective borrowers.
We're excited about future partnerships, near and far, and would be happy to talk with anyone interested in learning more. We encourage anyone to express more passive interest by following our blog, becoming a fan on Facebook and/or following us on Twitter.

For more information, please visit http://www.barefootmba.org.

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