With the third week come and gone a lot more progress has been made with the class. During this week I took a more supportive role as other members of the group had better experience with both marketing and finance and so could teach the content better. On both Monday and Tuesday we taught the class marketing and how to properly sell your product. We used examples from other companies well known to the class such as Coca-Cola and a local Internet provider. As the class opened up to us more we began to learn that the use of examples and group work helped them better understand the content, so we tried to provide more of that in the teaching process. On Tuesday we brought in someone from a company that is friendly with Belay Rwanda, Inkomoko, and she taught the class more on marketing. This was beneficial, as she knew more on how to market their product in Rwanda better than we did.
On Wednesday we helped everyone start writing down his or her business in the proper format. While they have not learned everything needed for their full business plan, they have enough to start on the more essential aspects such as company overview, market and industry analysis as well as marketing strategy. From this first draft we will then fine-tune the model and make it more presentable in the following week.
On Thursday basic finance and accounting was taught to the class. A simple game was used to address many financial terms as well. In the afternoon the students were taught the beginnings of how to pitch their product or business such as presentation and what is expected from them. A video example from the show Shark Tank was used to give an example for how to present and pitch a person’s idea.
Friday was spent learning each individual’s cost and selling prices for their business and its products. Once we learned what they think they needed we helped with learning their own salary and any costs that could be eliminated and assets to add. IN order to better help teach this subject we also brought in an accountant who taught the more detailed parts of finance.
In relation to the previous weeks disagreements and misunderstandings with Belay Rwanda, once everyone understood what was the most important aspect of this project (each and every students right to learn every aspect of starting a business) the overall planning and execution became much easier. No one party was fully at fault. Just as with the students, a better method of communication is essential in order for the project to run more smoothly. Helping everyone instead of pushing the weaker students has been very informational and has helped me relearn the more important aspect of what this project was meant to do. Watching every person grow and seeing their enjoyment in learning the information has truly been a gift. They have been more open overall with what they do and do not enjoy in regards to the subject material. A main cultural interest is that when answering a question they usually begin to respond with explaining the reasoning why they do something and after some time answer the question. We have tried to explain how when pitching an idea to someone they have to be more precise, and when the time comes they might do that. As of now though this situation might be normal in Rwanda and it is us the foreigners who are not understanding the difference in responding.
Finally working in Rwanda, after a year of planning we are here. Having never planned anything on this scale I was always unsure about the quality of the job I was doing in planning this project. Having had several meeting in the summer of 2014 with the Duhu country director I was convinced of the value and promise of the project. I was sure that the work aspect was going to be the least problematic part of the undertaking.
Starting out I knew the basics of what to plan and organize, having had a poor experience working in Ghana I thought I knew what to focus on. Housing, food, transportation were my top priorities and as well as managing the overall cost of the project. Not being in Rwanda to personally oversee the preparations I was always nervous that something would fall through. Having such a strong focus on those aspect of the project had its benefits as no significant problems arose and the costs were kept very low compared with other projects. The volunteers would face no unexpected cost and any that would arise would be covered for them.
However, with such a strong focus on the planning and organizational aspects of the project allowed holes to appear in other areas. While the subject of the actual work that we would do was discussed many time, the specifics were never fully nailed down or understood equally by both parties. While in retrospect this was a big oversight, before arriving the details about our activities seemed very clear and unambiguous. It was only after arriving in Rwanda that I discovered how wide a ranging interpretation two people could have from the same word.
As the second week has come and gone I have begun to gain more insight as to the main purpose of how Belay Rwanda wishes this program to progress and how to properly adapt to these changes. Midway through the second week the goal was altered from being to create businesses into being a more supportive role for the students, with business creation taking a more secondary role. This change made the group and myself sent here to make more changes to the curriculum and gave a realization that their promise in the beginning of this program of total control was not entirely accurate. While the wellbeing and care for the students and their learning should be put above all else, it was clear that many students were having a more difficult time with many of the topics. Once again the language and social barrier was a major obstacle to overcome. Many of the students showed a lack of understanding, and when addressed with these issues they provided little feedback for our failure to properly teach the subject matter to them. This difficulty, along with a lack of time and a desire to help create businesses, made us consider the possibility of having to cut some people from the program. The reasoning was for the sake of being able to effectively teach the subject to those who had a better understanding and to create the businesses that were desired for. When we told of our intentions to Belay Rwanda they said that this was a place of support and that even if they do not create a proper business that is ok. While this is of good intentions and I appreciate a company willing to try to help all, the consistent change of approach and direction of the program, especially when the program is underway, begins to whittle away more time to effectively teach.
Besides the inconvenience, the teaching has been beneficial on some level for both the students as well as myself. While some topics such as their minimum viable product and field research have been difficult for them to successfully execute, progress has been made. It has just become clear that in order for this program to be more successful, more time or a clearer personal understanding must be made for this program. As for myself, I have been learning to be able to adjust to these changes in direction. Creating new or changing current material with a time period of just a couple of days has been very beneficial to learn.
With the first week underway, a lot has already happened. As the training progressed, it was clear that more work was needed on the project than what was previously thought. With this being the first year that the current schedule and process was being used, there were some kinks to fix. More sources of information and a revamping of the curriculum were needed. Certain areas such as market analysis, finance, and supply chain were just a few areas that needed more sources and a more detailed approach. When the new schedule was altered, time became one of the more precious resources. Before the internship was underway six weeks seemed like a long time, but now time seems to rush by. Precision and accuracy in terms of teaching is so vital right now, as there are only two weeks of actual teaching and the rest involves starting the business and analyzing the results of their learning and the beginning of their business. Overall however the program is going well. A few students have great business ideas and with the right effort and training they will be successful.
So far most of the students seem very keen on learning more desiring to start their business as soon as possible. The main hurdle when teaching as of now is the language barrier. While every student is able to speak and read English, it is still difficult to get certain concepts across. One student described how sometimes when he sees a word he translates it back to Kinyarwanda then retranslates it back to English. Somewhere in that process a different definition or idea of what that word means comes out. To combat that we have been working to be more precise in the words we choose. A second hurdle is general societal difference. A lot of facial expressions are different than what Westerners use, so at times it is hard to get a read on someone on whether they understand something or not. Loudness and forwardness is generally looked down upon in Rwanda, especially for women. At first everyone barely spoke above a mumble, but as the students and we teachers got to know one another more they have become more open and louder. As the second week is underway it will be clearer how to proceed and whether our planning has paid off.