Workshop on Quaker Values in Microenterprise

Friends share applying Quaker values in micro-enterprise
On Saturday I gave a workshop on Quaker values in small business education. It was really fun pulling it together, mingling my business school marketing training with information from small business workshops I assisted in Guatemala with indigenous women, and reflecting on John Woolman’s experience in refusing to write contracts to buy and sell people as slaves! We talked about how Quakers have always declined to barter, setting a fair price instead. I shared my experience in the 80s when I organized the Women’s Housing Initiative with Susan Davies and Anne Gelbspan in Boston, and how Cambridge Meeting testified to its values in assisting that organization with a large loan and spiritual support. The participants were interested to hear about a whole community working together to create a project, since most of their work tends to be individually based.
We had a great time talking about examples from La Paz of business decisions. How it is that 40 women can sell bread at the same corner by the church, and whether they will all be successful. We talked about how the microbus drivers can afford to be rude to the customer, since there is no need for customer loyalty given the masses of buses which look identical to each other. (How different from Guatemala where each bus driver lovingly names his bus with a big sign and puts creative decorations on it!) We talked about these examples of building, or not building, customer loyalty.
We talked about how it is important in a small business to keep your personal funds separate from your business, and to pay the business back if you use items for your family. How important it is not to let the children eat the candy in your store, or to eat the chicken that you are raising for eggs! We talked about some of the microfinance agencies that are sprouting up in Bolivia, some good and some bad.
The audience for the workshop was the group of students who are attending university and receiving scholarships from BQEF. Among the students’ plans, there are the following: one student is studying gastronomy and he hopes to start a restaurant with really good Italian food. One is a social work student, several are studying law, and a few are studying education. One is studying petroleum science (I don’t think he will be starting a small business). Many of the students have experience with small businesses, ranging from small general stores to sewing pollera skirts or selling sweets on the street. We’re hoping that this will be only the first in a number of tallers, or workshops, offered to the scholarship students.