25 April 2011

How running a business workshop works

Workshop participants working on an exercise
Out in the beautiful island group of Vava'u where the clear water laps over teeming coral reef, for at least three days a week, I was inside by a wheezing copy machine, replacing page after page to copy, compiling folders of materials, and making sure for the umpteenth time that the projector worked with the laptop. The other two days were the reward: village business workshops run with my coworkers at Tonga Development Bank.

Contrary to popular opinion, we do actually do a lot of work, but it's not quite as interesting as the good food we eat at feasts, the fun trips we go on, and our many cultural blunders- I mean learning- so it doesn't often enter into our blog. Village workshops are the highlight for my coworkers and I in Business Advisory Services at TDB. We travel to different places, meet real people affected by the bank, and get our normal routine shaken up a bit. It makes the copying fully worth it.
We use powerpoint for the presentation sections

The people that are invited to a workshop are normally current customers of TDB from the villages around where we gather. They're held during the work day on a morning, so most of the people attending are shop owners, farmers, weavers, cooks, and creatively self-employed people. The first part of our training covers basic information about loans and services at TDB. This is often the only time that participants get to have their questions answered about how loans work, and so the question time usually lasts for a huge part of the training. 

Working in groups during a business skills exercise
We then move on to mini business skills training. The people in the workshop practice how to set up sales and expense records, fill in forms recording how much any given customer owes (which is a very, very common occurrence), and we recently added a section covering basic marketing, inventory, pricing, and fraud control. Almost every family has someone at some point running at least a tiny business, whether it's selling veggies at the side of the road, baking cakes for the saturday market, processing kava to make into powder, or running a small dry goods store, so most of these skills are pretty useful for everyone involved. 

When all the training is over, we all get to sit down and eat, because by that time it's lunchtime. The food is always ordered from a little restaurant in the area or a womens' group from the town, and usually includes fried chicken, sweet potato, lu (taro leaves in coconut milk wrapped around meat of some kind), and sometimes a couple hot dogs and a boiled egg. We drink chilled coconuts. 
 Vava'u branch manager and a loan officer laughing during a break

I come back, and before I write the report about the training, we share any extra food with the rest of the office. Sometimes they get lucky and we have a couple of extra plates, but sometimes every single person invited shows up to the training and the office laments their bad luck.

Then while we catch up on other work, we start anticipating the next training- sometimes the next day, sometimes in four months. 





Note about the title: If you recognize it, I shamelessly stole the format of the title from my favorite podcast series, How Stuff Works. And if you're wondering how we download them here with such slow internet, I'm still working through the hundreds I mass downloaded before we left Portland... good jogging material.

1 comment:

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