Friday, February 8, 2008

Small Business Training…and Hopefully More

While the majority of Bénin’s working-class populations (2/3) are engaged in the agricultural sector, the second largest demographic is engaged in service-sector activities. This service sector also generates just over half of Bénin’s aggregate income.

The service sector itself is composed largely of Artisans (and Artisan Entrepreneurs), a broad economic category which includes mechanics, electricians, metal workers, carpenters, tailors, hairdressers, food and drink producers, potters, artists, and small-scale transformers of various household products.

Among Peace Corps Bénin’s Small Enterprise Development (SED) objectives is the technical training of Artisans/Small Business Owners in business skills which will reinforce their organizational and management capacities, and helping to create linkages between markets that will spawn business growth and development for such small and medium-sized businesses.

Such an objective can include an array of activities for a Peace Corps SED Volunteer. For Artisans who have and/or manage their own shops, I recently began teaching Comptabilité (basic accounting). If successful, these formations (training) will not just teach artisans to “crunch numbers” and augment profit. As crucial as profit margins are to the life of a business, good business and development itself is not just about quantifiable growth and the bottom line. Rather, it is my hope that the analytical rigor that accounting demands will also trigger more analytical planning and problem-solving in other arenas of life. I also hope to use the general discipline of accounting to open up other important “less-quantifiable” topics of discussion, to include corruption and transparency, worker’s/employer’s and children’s rights, conflict-resolution, and the conscientious management of household/personal income and resources.

Aside from accounting, SED Volunteers also have taught formations on Marketing, Business Managament, Personal Finance, Savings and Credit, Time Managament, and other topics of practical interest to entrepreneurs. Additionally—pursuant partly to the demands of Sustainability—many volunteers offer formations to “train-up trainers.” These endeavor to teach business specific skills, offer guidance on teaching, and create a “system” of incentives that will ensure that low-cost technical business training continues when Peace Corps Bénin has left Nikki, and eventually Bénin.