Profesor de Negocios

10 May

Teaching business classes to agricultural workers and entrepreneurs in Juanjui

In another century in America, teachers received apples from their students on the first day of school.  A few weeks ago I began my first of a series of weekly workshops to provide business plan training to farmers and aspiring entrepreneurs in the rural town of Juanjui.  Instead of apples, I was greeted with a basket of several kilos of oranges and other citrus fruits, courtesy of a pair of middle-aged farmer women (one who lives in a village sans electricity) who are students in my class.  At the end of our first session, they led the class in a group toast with freshly squeezed orange juice, and I received the first of many invitations to visit their farms.

Initially, I wasn’t sure how I would take to this new component of my work, which involves traveling a couple hours out in the countryside via cramped colectivo taxis.  My trips always involve hoping there are enough other passengers with the same intended destination to fill a car, hoping that heavy rains don’t strand me somewhere inopportune, and hoping to avoid an accident on the dark, scary roads late at night.  (On my way home tonight, in fact, my taxi struck and killed a large dog that was in the middle of the road.  Damn sad.)

My students come from outlying areas which aren’t the most accessible either.  So it’s no wonder that during a conversation with a colectivo driver in Juanjui, he complimented my work with cocoa and coffee farmers, but countered “You must have also encountered la blanquita?”  Of course, the “white girl” he was referring to was not any foreign tourist (of which there are none out in Juanjui) but cocaine — and as the driver rattled off a list of places in the area where coca is grown, I was reminded that the region’s alternative development campaigns are not yet “Mission Accomplished!”

Combine the issue of distance with my worries about a potential language barrier (much like in the U.S., country accents here can be thick!), and I was worried that no one would turn up. Indeed, it’s a good thing I’m well-accustomed to hora Peruana, as on that first afternoon, only two people arrived at the scheduled start time.  But, all turned out well–people came and have continued to come. (They have continued to come with gifts too–jars of chocolate jelly, slabs of pure cocoa, and more contribute to a surplus of goodies that out of necessity I have to share with my co-workers back in Tarapoto.)

The important thing is my participants have been motivated, interested in the material, and thrilled to interact with me.  I am able to laugh and joke with my students, chastising the occasional one who hasn’t done their homework by asking “¿El perro comió tu tarea?” (“The dog ate your HW?”)  That doesn’t mean the class environment has been entirely like any back in the States would be — but long-winded old Peruvian men and an openly breast-feeding mother have been far less notable, I can attest, than the manager of a woman’s cooperative who on multiple occasions gave me his virus-and-porn infected USB drive.  The second time he did so when my laptop was connected to the projector, and the whole class was treated to a listing of this man’s interests as he reassured me his “mission statement” was somewhere on that drive for us to group review!  Misión, no, amigo… think you got that confused with posición misionero!

Joking aside, I love that I have gotten to fulfill my long-held “second career” wish of being a teacher, and have done so entirely in Spanish.  Though it’s still early in the program, we have covered diverse topics such as marketing, developing measurable objectives for a business, and in today’s workshop, every B-school student’s favorite paradigm: Las cinco fuerzas de Porter (Porter’s Five Forces).  I guided my class through a discussion of substitute products, price and product differentiation, and competitive advantage, adapting this material to use local businesses and my students’ own business ideas as examples and case studies.  I continually remind my students–participants in Technoserve’s 2012 Idea Tu Empresa business case competition–of the success of some of the finalists from the first competition last year, pointing out that those successful entrepreneurs were in the same set of training workshops my students are in now!  I am hoping that out of my classes emerge at least a couple great businesses that can introduce cool new products, make money, and create jobs.

Launch event for Idea Tu Empresa 2 in Juanjui

On my late night colectivo rides back home to Tarapoto, I often fall asleep exhausted but elated.  Last week, I found myself wedged into the corner of a shared taxi, next to a veritable giantess who occupied the middle seat.  For once, I barely noticed how cramped I was, and I quickly fell into a deep sleep.  This deep sleep, I noticed rather unperturbedly when I briefly stirred at one moment, consisted of having my face burrowed into my neighbor’s fleshy arm.  When I finally woke up some two hours later, this woman good-naturedly teased me about using her arm as a pillow. The next day I learned that she was the niece of our new project head, the big boss who just arrived this month.

Oh, hmm… maybe I’ve got a new off-the-cuff lesson to give to my entrepreneurs next time: be careful whom you’re, er, sleeping with?

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5 Responses to “Profesor de Negocios”

  1. Andrew T May 10, 2012 at 12:55 am #

    Man, the prospect of teaching a class in English is terrifying enough, it is bad ass you’re doing it in Peru. Though let’s hope you’re not accidentally teaching a couple of cocaine farmers how to move their bandito blanco!

    Nice work, watch your face.

    Next time you conk out in a taxi, I mean 🙂

  2. nj May 10, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    poor dog.

    sounds like you enjoy teaching!

  3. Megan May 10, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    this is FABULOUS! come to Kenya and teach my dairy farmers!!! every time I read this I’m reminded that I need to start documenting all my funny/awkward stories…

    • Jean Agustin May 10, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

      Teacher Jay…wawww

  4. neharustagi May 10, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    teaching farmers in spanish is pretty awesome, dude. good stuff!

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