Unlocking Opportunity for SMEs Through Innovative Training

May 03, 2011

When setting out to design a basic finance course that could be useful across the myriad programs TechnoServe executes, we decided to try something a little different than the traditional workshop model.

This post was originally published on NextBillion and is reposted here with permission.

Have you ever found yourself dozing off in class or at a workshop? Most of us can relate to this experience and know the phrase "death by PowerPoint." We sit and listen for hours as if our minds will open up and "absorb the wisdom of the expert," even though we know this is not how we truly learn. So why would we continue to teach in this way?  And why are so many development efforts running training programs that rely on this traditional model? Entrepreneurs and farmers with less formal education and lower literacy levels will struggle just as much, if not more, to learn via this method.

When setting out to design a basic finance course that could be useful across the myriad programs TechnoServe executes, we decided to try something a little different than the traditional workshop model. Working together with Accellerated Learning consultancy Delphin Inc., and with funding from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), TechnoServe designed "Keys to Financial Success." Delphin CEO Gail Heidenhain, an adult learning specialist, collaborated with TechnoServe Capacity Building Advisor Holly Marvin to build the course.

Keys to Financial Success is designed to help managers and board members of small and medium sized businesses in less-developed countries master record keeping and financial literacy skills that will enable them to use financial information to make better business decisions.

The nuts and bolts of the training course

The program aims to make the learning as real and relevant as possible. "For learning to catch, it has to speak to your aspirations," Heidenhain says. "The facilitator really needs to spend time up front thinking about the target audience and asking what it is that they really care about. Capturing this core element is fundamental to designing an effective training program. Asking questions like 'how will they see the importance and relevance in this lesson?' and 'how might they begin carrying forward what I am teaching today?' are critical first steps. It is really about harnessing a shift in thinking through the development of a culture of learning and innovation."

The content of the course captures this innovative spirit. For example, instead of introducing accounting terminology such as "debit" and "credit", Keys to Financial Success presents the concept first by using a simple five square framework. The team also uses conceptual illustrations such as buckets to both inspire creative thinking and break down language barriers or aversion to technical terms.

And in the execution, the course is about getting people moving around and actively making decisions with other participants. "Above all, Keys to Financial Success is about the accelerated learning methodology which makes the learning come alive and become relevant to the participants," Marvin says. "People are actively involved in their learning; they participate in games that help them to break down their thinking so they can be sure of their understanding."

Keys to Financial Success encourages participant engagement. Learners spend the majority of the workshop practicing their accounting and record-keeping skills in fun ways such as board games and even dancing. "Accounting is no longer seen as a mundane, irrelevant task, because participants see the connections to issues that are affecting their businesses - for example, needing to manage cash because they make a lot of sales on credit," says Marvin.

The course in "prime time"

Through a series of Training of Trainers (TOT) workshops, TechnoServe is rolling out this innovative curriculum and reaching individuals from across the globe. To date, Marvin has led four workshops in Uganda, Kenya, Guatemala and Tanzania, training 57 TechnoServe staff members along the way.

These intensive workshops focus not only on mastering the curriculum, but also on understanding the methodology behind the training. By highlighting the key principles of accelerated learning such as the role of facilitator, the use of art, the importance of reflection and the inclusion of learning methods involving discovery and experimentation, TOT workshops equip participants with the tools to effectively train the small businesses they serve.

Following the five-day immersion into the material, trainers continue to receive support from Marvin as they implement the curriculum. Trainers in Kenya, Rwanda and Colombia have already successfully run subsequent trainings with TechnoServe program clients.

Kenneth Matonya and Emmanuel Juma are TechnoServe employees in Kenya with the East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) program, a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project TechnoServe is working on as a subcontractor to Heifer International. Both are trained as trainers of Keys to Financial Success and have run the program.

"The most striking change is the active environment; we incorporate music and get people up and moving around the room," Juma says. "For most of the people, finance is not very interesting and they find it a bit difficult and not exciting. Breaking away from the terminology of accounting - introducing buckets as opposed to debit and credit for example - allows them to understand without stumbling into the same barriers. Knock out the technical garble and get them up and moving and all of a sudden you find yourself facilitating learning in a more holistic way. And a key difference with this new training method is that this is informal; the teacher becomes part of the learning group. The trainer is not really there to teach, but instead to share ideas and facilitate learning those new ideas."

These innovative methods are crucial when learners may not have a much experience in the classroom. In the case of EADD, "Training on financial literacy [is] important because directors of the chilling plants are semi-literate," Matonya says. "In West Boko, for example, the chairman is a primary 7 graduate and this business is effectively being run by illiterate people. The way we have tailored the course, however, circumvents this barrier to learning."

With this spirit of innovation in mind, TechnoServe introduces Keys to Financial Success, unlocking opportunities for small business owners by allowing them to make better business decisions.

To learn more about this initiative, feel free to reach out to Marvin at hmarvin@tns.org. This article is also the first in a series of blog posts that will follow this transformative training agenda over the course of the next year.