Entrepreneur Stan Kriz has set up five or six businesses in his time, but he almost certainly has never faced a challenge quite like this one: training Burmese church leaders, housewives and farmers to set up their own micro-enterprises.
Myanmar, a country of 60 million, is in the early stages of opening its doors to political reform, which will help its economy begin to mirror those of other developing Asian nations. Currently, about 15 million Burmese are living on less than $1.25 a day.
Five Talents has been invited by the Anglican archbishop in Myanmar, Stephen Oo, to set up a network of business training seminars that can help locals find new ways to provide for themselves and create a sustainable living.
During the recent July trip, the Five Talents team was asked to give advanced training to church and community leaders who would in turn train local parishioners on how to come up with a business plan.
"It was our goal to train a dozen people who were church employees ... so that these dozen people would themselves take ownership of the curriculum, practice it, and go out and present it with us so that we knew they had actually captured it," said Kriz, who authored the training curriculum that Five Talents uses in the field.
The team encouraged the trainers to take ownership of the curriculum. For example, in one activity, they asked each group to identify an example story that did not quite fit within their culture and replace it with one that did.
Later, after three days of training, the "students" broke up into groups and then set out to train still more community leaders and budding micro-entrepreneurs. Kriz and the other trainers went along to observe and coach the trainers further.
Only a small number of people in the church have done any sort of business before, said Kriz. In Africa, that number is usually much higher – at 10-20 percent. As the teams of trainers gave their first seminars, Stan was excited to see how much of the curriculum that had already soaked up and made their own.
"Not only did the Burmese trainers get the curriculum right, but each one of them put their own spin on the content," Kriz recalled. "One person made up a skit that was inserted into the presentation. Others rearranged the order in which their points were presented, and their personalities came through. They shared themselves with the students, which was one of the things we stressed."
He laughed when he told the story of the trainer who broke out her own skit: "We were in Mandalay and we were in the marketing session, and the trainer got up and started talking in Burmese. We kind of assumed she was rolling down the road, but then she got out some props for a skit. We started looking at each other and said, 'Where is she? This isn't part of [the plan].' In fact, the trainer had written a very short little skit to illustrate one particular point. It was a complete invention and did not come from us at all, and we applauded in our minds eye that she had done such a great job of choosing another way of illustrating the point in order to get it across."
The end goal of the Five Talents business training seminars is to have each student walk away with a business plan. Some of the best ideas to come out of the most recent sessions put forward a moped repair shop and a sewing shop that does custom tailoring.
"As we worked through the process of what marketing looks like, and what financing looks like and what the business planning looks like, each student answers a couple of pages of questions. By the time they come to the end, they have done a business plan. And they get to see that we [teachers] didn't select the business. We didn't answer the questions about how [one] would do marketing. They did."
This process helps women and men in the community to see what they are capable of – even before they have put their plan into action.
"There was a particular time in Tanzania several years ago when we had taken a break late in the second day," recalled Kriz. "Some of the ladies we were teaching had caught on to the fact that they were doing a real business plan. They were outside on this break, and I was hanging out with the interpreter, and the two ladies saw some men they knew walking down the street. They announced to the guys, 'We can write our own business plans now. We're business ladies.' The message was that 'we've been empowered. We don't need to have you condescending and coaching us along. We can do this ourselves'."
Pictured: Women working in a micro-enterprise that makes detergent