Thursday, October 18, 2007

Micro-Business Seminars - Are They Effective?

Few weeks back I received a note from a church in America asking how the members of their congregation might become more involved in ministry overseas? One area he suggested was that business leaders come over to do micro-enterprise seminars. Following up on that thought I sent a post to a network of business professionals with this question.

Do you think that the average businessman from the West can effectively communicate micro-business startups? Yes or No. Why?

I received this response from a financial advisor:

“No! I don't think a western business person is a good teacher.

I have been a business consultant in Indonesia and have learned the severe limitations of advising small businesses. The smaller the business the more difficult it is to advise because the culture affects small businesses the most. Micro business are generally out of the understanding of a western business person.”

This businessman went on to say that few people from the West understand the obstacles of business in developing countries that are corrupt or play by different ethical rules. With laws that are slanted against certain castes or tribes, it is difficult for some small business projects to get a license or permit. The whole matter of paying a bribe to set up a business is also an issue that most westerner’s are not equipped to address.

Another obstacle that makes it difficult for western businessmen teaching in developing countries is the use of inappropriate business models. Loans, advertisement, distribution, inventory, profit margin, are all good terms but usually are either unrealistic or unheard of in countries where business is a means of putting daily food on the table. Using models that are sustained by outside capital has no relevance within a culture where risk is not even an option.

The challenge in working cross-culturally is the same regardless of the subject. Whether it finance or evangelism, the key is to first understand the context. Before a short-term team from the states launches out on doing business as missions, perhaps they should learn the context of the host culture to insure that they know the questions before giving the answers.