Well friends, we are back from a groundbreaking two weeks for Yobel. It was a time of firsts. The trip to Thailand was the first time our curriculum was conducted in Southeast Asia AND the first time we performed a Train the Trainers internationally!
Over the next several weeks we will share more about this adventure: the exposure trip, another Train the Trainers in Bangkok, and entrepreneur highlights. For now, here is the story of Yobel’s business training conducted in Chiang Mai from April 25-29.
Despite the incredible heat (above 110°F most of the time) and smoke, many of Chiang Mai’s charms were not lost on us. The people were truly delightful, friendly, pleasant, and, of course, full of smiles. The culture and architecture were amazing. The food was delicious, including the meals we enjoyed almost daily at the Ina House, the guest-house run by AIPP, our hosting organization.
While it would be easy to spend months just exploring the places and culture of Thailand, we were there for a specific purpose: to bring Yobel’s business curriculum to a group of men and women from outlying hill tribes.
Many of the trainees (who we call entrepreneurs through the course of training) already have amazing skills in handicrafts or agriculture and have an incredible support system through AIPP - Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact. We were so grateful and honored that AIPP invited us and hosted us for this business training.
Throughout the week, we were so impressed by the pride these villagers have for their tribes and communities. They also have a beautiful value for organic farming and promoting agriculture that preserves the integrity of the forest they live in. They even recycled throughout the training and had a deep understanding of their impact on the environment! Through AIPP, they have an impressive support structure and advocate as a people group who generally has to operate outside the social supports of their country.
Yobel's Business Training
The training was attended by both men and women of a wide age range - including two 15 year olds and two 60-somethings! There was also a wide range of education levels: from those with no schooling at all to those with several master’s degrees. Some entrepreneurs had never used a calculator and some were using their smartphone’s calculators. It was an interesting mix and one that provided for opportunities of peer-to-peer support among the attendees. At the end of training, we celebrated the graduation of 30 of the 33 entrepreneurs. We shared so many laughs with these amazing people during the week!
As always, much of what is taught in this business training is new (even to those with master’s degrees!) and can be a struggle, but the trainees took it all in stride. More than other trainings I have been a part of, people in this course really wanted to be heard and many of them had a lot to say. I think this really shows their respect for each other and their love of community.
We also saw SO MUCH collaboration in this group! By the end of the training there were multiple people figuring out ways to work together and cross-promote businesses. The entire group decided to start a Facebook group to keep in touch, help brainstorm through problems, and continue to network. This was a first in any of our trainings we’ve hosted so far!
Struggles & Surprises
Not everything was perfect and lovely and unicorns, of course. It never is. We had some major struggles the first couple days of training with translation equipment that made the initial lessons more difficult to teach. Because of this, we think a lot of the good stuff from our first few lessons (a lot of encouraging people to dream big, think outside the box, overcoming obstacles; some very empowering lessons) did not come across fully.
These first lessons are some of our favorites, so it was discouraging that they might not be appreciated in full, but we think we were able to instill some of this in conversations later in the training. Partway through Day 2 we were able to get rid of the translation ear pieces and it was a million times better. We also had some difficulty with translation in the entrepreneur workbook. There were times when a topic that is easily summarized in a couple of words in English, did not have a direct translation in Thai. Literally, they need a sentence or a paragraph to get the point across, instead of just one word. Our translator, Mr. Chu, was skilled at expanding on these concepts to explain them more fully and was an incredible asset throughout the business training.
One disconnect that we encountered while working with this particular group is that many were hoping we had come in the role of consultant, rather than trainer. They heard this would be a business training and interpreted that to mean Americans had come to solve their business woes. But, this isn’t what we do. Instead, Yobel teaches people that they are capable of being the answer to their own problems. We do not tell people which kind of business they should start nor what price to charge for a particular product. Instead we instruct them in how to survey their market and determine what will be viable in their communities, then establish a firm foundation of practices that will lead to future success. We KNOW our friends around the world are capable of answering these questions for themselves and that true empowerment only occurs when we give people the opportunity to realize their own capacity. Yobel gives them the tools and the space to think through their ideas, to test budgets for themselves and see if they might be viable, to consider how to give their product or service a comparative advantage over similar products, and so much more. Teaching a man to fish can be challenging, but incredibly rewarding when they realize they have the tools to succeed on their own in the future.
An unusual surprise was that people actually appreciated the pricing portion! Normally this is one of the hardest sessions to teach, but many of the responses we received were grateful and communicated that the entrepreneurs now have a better idea how to price to actually make a profit.
With the advanced education levels of many of our trainees (majority of attendees had high school or college level education), we struggled to find a balance between keeping the people with lower education up to speed, and keeping it interesting for those with higher education levels. Even those who already knew the concepts, were asked to put them into practice, a first for many. While our curriculum is aimed at helping people with little-to-no-education start micro-businesses, I am always impressed and surprised with how much is learned by people of ALL education levels.
Business Training Impact
Based on end of course surveys, this incredible group said that the business planning, pricing, record keeping, ethics, and savings concepts were most valuable. For many, this was their first opportunity to create a mission statement for their business and to solidify realistic objectives to move from their business from idea to reality. After training, 21 of 30 entrepreneurs plan to begin 24 new businesses. Their business plans include homestays for tourists, tea and coffee plantations, agro-businesses, and dormitory housing for students in Chiang Mai. They will share their new business knowledge with 828 people in their villages, an average of 25 people each! We are so proud of this amazing bunch and can't wait to hear what they've done when we check in next!