Editor's note: Five Talents recently sent a team of trainers to Kenya to hold business seminars for a group of micro-entrepreneurs about 30km outside of Thika. Here, one of the trainers, Brad Frink, reflects on the contributions of his students, who, he writes, "often had more to teach me than I did them."
On our business as mission trip to Thika, Kenya, we have had the unique opportunity to conduct two very interesting, yet quite different projects, both of which we hope will help the materially poor in rural Kenya improve their businesses, their families' lives and their communities in general.
Our primary focus is teaching Biblically-based business principles to 100 or so micro-entrepreneurs in the Thungururu community, about 30 km outside of Thika. For this project, there was a clear curriculum, a trainer's guide, and at least one of us on the team had delivered the material before. The other project was a bit less clear at the outset, and called for the development of a value chain analysis for the production and sale of free-range broiler chickens in the Ithanga Division of Muranga County, Kenya, with the ultimate goal of supporting the establishment of a farmers' cooperative. Both of these efforts involved taking our knowledge and sharing it with others, whether through classroom teaching or through the development of a process and financial model.
While the Five Talents team members were in the role of teachers or trainers, I personally found that our "students" often had more to teach me than I did them. For example, in leading part of the business curriculum on Planning, I soon realized that one of our students had a formal business education and many years of practical experience in accounting. Selected by his peers as the leader of one of our breakout groups, he incorporated a number of ideas into his team's business plan that we had neither discussed as part of the training, nor probably even considered. Items such as the cost of a business license, an allowance for slow or non-paying customers, and taxes, added more depth to the team's financial plan than we had planned to get into in our training, but other teams picked up on this creativity, and proceeded to add further layers of detail into their own plans. The result was that the teams put together some of the most thorough business plans that have come out of this course, as well as a pair of instructors who were both humbled and impressed by the teams' work.
As for the value chain analysis, we began the week by establishing a baseline understanding of what was needed and how we could best support the Thika Community Development Trust's (TCDT) goals in the area. We spent an afternoon leading the TCDT staff through the development of a framework for analyzing the free-range chicken value chain, linking our proposed processes together, and identifying the building blocks needed to construct a financial model to assess potential profitability of producing, processing, and/or transporting free-range broiler chickens to market. While we contributed by bringing a structured process for framing the problem, and identifying the research items needed to complete the analysis, it was only through the TCDT team's (and some of their contacts') knowledge of the local market, customer demand, costs and prices, that we were able to develop a model that had any relevance to the market. In fact, in many cases, it was the TCDT staff's own experiences shopping for broiler chickens, that provided us several key pieces of information needed for our model.
Although the Five Talents team members, both of whom are professional business consultants, are using our gifts to serve others in the local communities in and around Thika, what we bring to the table is not enough. The above examples show that the success of the projects we are implementing, and the local programs they support, rest on a successful partnership between Five Talents volunteers and the local agency partners and community members we are called to serve. It is fitting that we started our training with the teaching of the Parable of the Five Talents, because had any of us hidden our talents, rather than putting them to use, we would not have had the success we have, nor would we have built the platform on which future success can grow.