Enterprise under the mango trees


Enterprise under the mango trees

Where did you last have a great conversation about business? Was it round the Boardroom table (or kitchen table for home-workers); at the water-cooler or a neighbours BBQ? When you run your own business you never quite switch off and random conversations or situations continue to add to your pool of knowledge.

I’ve been reflecting on this ever since I got back from a recent working trip to Uganda as part of pro-bono PR work for a Christian relief and development charity. Although I knew in advance that I would be expected to talk to the pupils at the school we support, I didn’t expect to be teaching them. Self-reliance and enterprise is being widely encouraged by the Ugandan government, so teaching business skills to 150 students under the school’s mango trees would be my small but practical contribution to the curriculum.

The Parents’ School in Ngora, north east Uganda is relatively new, struggling for funds but run by a very competent, lively Head Teacher. Classrooms are small, cramped and hot so taking the classes outdoors was a huge relief despite the soaring heat. I took four classes of 30 minutes each, moving from tree to tree as each set of students quietly assembled. The agrarian community of Ngora district are by nature and circumstance a very self-reliant people. Most families are subsistence farmers so the pupils sitting waiting for my words of wisdom could probably have taught me a thing or two about making something out of virtually nothing.

Describing how I used to sell homemade lemonade at the age of six built some street-cred with these young people and I went on to suggest three cornerstones for a successful business. The first being to sell something people need and that genuinely fills a gap. The second being to get the price right and the third was to learn from school and develop the skills needed to mange the venture. My teaching style is very interactive, which was a bit of a novelty in Ngora, but I persuaded the students to work in small groups and come up with a business idea and then to list the skills they thought they would need to take it forward. From pig breeding to tailoring, the examples were fairly predictable but we had to give the thumbs down to the refrigeration repair service – only the local hospital enjoys an intermittent electricity supply! What impressed me most was the pupils’ understanding that an education would give them a better future, with the prospect of earning enough for food, medicines and shelter.

It was a privilege to work with those pupils in this remote region of rural Uganda. I learnt from them, and from the community we stayed with that the fundamentals of business are the same world-wide. I’d like to hear your tales of talking business in far-flung places of the globe. We really are one big enterprising family.