Today I had the pleasure of observing a Building Young Futures training session. This event, run in partnership with UNICEF and Barclays, will serve as a primary focus of my upcoming article.
After a short drive, we arrived in the charming little village of Katembula. The training session, which aims to foster business and entrepreneurship skills in the unemployed youth of Zambia, was being held at the local Youth Resource Centre.
As we walked in to observe, 36 pairs of eyes fell upon us, but once we had introduced ourselves and stated why we were there, we quickly managed to fade into the background.
The trainer addressing the youths was a charismatic and bubbly woman, and it was clear that she was able to engage well with her students. The room was large and airy, particularly cool compared to the harsh sun outside, with a deep copper-coloured floor and pale yellow walls – one of which boasted a dusty, unused chalkboard. The windows were draped with light brown curtains and various hand-made posters adorned the walls. The posters included things like a map of businesses in the village, the names of their modules and, of course, the famous ground rules:
The session was taught mainly in Bemba, a common language that all of the students could understand, as they came from many different tribes. Luckily I had Annie, of UNICEF Zambia, to translate for me.
A couple of the students were performing a role play to demonstrate good business practice verses bad business practice. In the front of the room was a wooden table featuring an array of groceries – including juice, cooking oil, sugar, eggs, oranges, body lotion and a ball of string.
The role plays went a little something like this:
Customer wants to buy something, but doesn’t have enough money. Employee refuses – aware that he allows too many people to buy on credit and his boss will be angry.
Customer: “Please just give to me. My children are hungry and crying at home.”
In the end, employee relents and allows the customer to take some juice, oranges and eggs. Customer assures that she will pay next week. Boss returns and is very cross with employee. He tells him that he will increase his salary next month, instead of this month as promised, because he is not making as much profit as he should be. This causes a huge argument between them and they both storm out.
Boss is worried that the business is not doing very well as she is often away in Tanzania to buy new products. She employs a new person and tells her to put all the money into the business bank account. She will teach employee about stock-taking when she gets back.
Customer: “How much for eggs, cooking oil and oranges?”
Employee: “Eggs 20 kwacha, oranges 6 kwacha, cooking oil 2 kwacha.”
Customer asks to pay on credit but employee refuses, stating that it is not allowed. Customer pays, but does not buy the oranges. The boss returns. They decide to go to the bank together to deposit the money. The boss tells employee that she is saving up to buy a guesthouse. They both walk out.
The trainer then asked the students what were the main differences between the two businesses. Hands shot up all around the room. Some of the responses were:
– “The first business was giving out too much on credit”.
– “The first business never banked their money, and the boss was always coming to spend what had been earned.”
– “The first business owner didn’t know what he was doing and where his business was going.”
– “The increment in salary never came and the worker became demoralised and lost interest in the business.”
– “The owner [of the first business] did not separate his business money and his personal money.”
– “The second business did not give things on credit.”
– “The second took their money to the bank.”
– “The employee found from their customers what was demanded of the business.”
– “The boss was looking forward to see what else they could do.”
– “The first business had rules set from the beginning.”
Once the responses had been discussed, and it was clear to the students why the second business was clearly more successful than the first, the trainer asked for real life examples. One student raised his hand and said that he once owned a shop, but felt sorry for people who could not afford to pay and often gave things out on credit, which eventually caused his business to fail. Another student said that he too owned a shop, but was always tempted to take the profit for personal use, and thus his business also failed.
What I found fascinating was how totally engaged and enthusiastic the youths were about the session. The trainers were really skilled in making it interesting, fun and, most importantly, relevant to them. The advice given was extremely valuable as many had witnessed their previous small businesses fail, perhaps without fully considering why. The advice will definitely be useful in their futures as young entrepreneurs.