Using CARES to Teach Marketing and Entrepreneurship
by Chiqui Escareal-Go
 
One of my personal advocacies, which I also call my favorite ministry, is giving talks on business, marketing and personal development to micro and small enterprise entrepreneurs.  These talks are usually organized by various organizations like Ahon sa Hirap Inc., a microfinancing company that focuses on helping “nanays” (some 30,000 of them) start or scale up their businesses or by government groups such as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI Rizal) through their business summits and women entrepreneurship initiatives, and the local government of Quezon City through their Sikap Buhay program.  These organizations partner with Day 8 Business Academy which is Mansmith’s social enterprise advocacy that provides affordable courses for SME entrepreneurs.

Over the past 5 years, I must have given talks (particularly on Small Store Marketing) to over thousands such entrepreneurs whose business instincts and drive as well as willingness to learn, further inspire me to work more closely with them.  I am the one more humbled by their presence in my talks as I know it takes much for them to take time out from tending to their families and businesses in hope that they can learn a thing or two not just about growing their businesses but also, improving the quality of their lives.  This level of engagement leads me to focus on what is essential, workable, and sustainable for these entrepreneurs so what I can offer is truly worth their time.

And so in this journey, I have been asked various common questions that give me an idea where they really are, such as: “How much credit must I extend to construction workers who get their meals from my store? Do the good luck charms and feng shui tips really help the business? What do I do with my neighbor who keeps cutting her prices?”

While seasoned business people will find these questions basic and quite common sense, I am both charmed and alarmed when I hear them.  I know that these questions arise more out of (innocent and authentic) hope rather than lack of experience, but this lack of experience is very risky for those with already limited capital.
 
Another realization for me is when I got more interesting feedback from my talk on Spotting Business Opportunities which included the basic framework of knowing your customers, understanding their attitudes, behaviors and needs and finding their unmet needs, some of which they don’t even know they needed or wanted.  Those organizations helping MSMe “nanays” shared that they now understood why most of the businesses they support through microfinancing or mentoring mostly fail – the idea of the business from the very start may not be viable or ideal usually for lack of target market understanding.

This process of insighting that could lead to business ideas or opportunities is much neglected in many efforts to start or scale up businesses.  The proverbial “handwriting on the wall” that spell out obsolescence or even insanity (in this case, doing the same things and expecting different results) is often ignored, perhaps out of desperation or simply for lack of any other known option or direction.  Of course, even big companies (think Kodak or Nokia) were unable to act quickly enough when the tide was changing.

I feel then that teaching entrepreneurship would require a curriculum not just on developing business plans (branding, marketing, etc.), or financial acumen but as important, building life skills that can be used to enhance both their business sense and even, the quality of their relationships.
 
These include (using the acronym C-A-R-E-S):
1)   Compassion (care for what matters most – the planet and the people)
2)   Agility (the ability to respond and act quickly)
3)   Resilience (can-do, never-say-die)
4)   Empathy (through listening, questioning and observing)
5)   Sensemaking (heightened awareness in seeing patterns and trends)
 
These life skills, while learned more from experience rather than from lectures, can be developed by providing “laboratories” or classrooms where conversations are directed to unearth legitimate concerns (including socio-cultural, spiritual, and ethical), where people are trained to think critically and build on ideas to create relevant and impactful solutions and where there are selfless and giving mentors who can guide the thought process and hasten the learning curve.
As an entrepreneur with an anthropology background, I am a firm believer on the importance of soft skills, which looks into social and cultural matters that humanize business.  This can be done by addressing authentic concerns while instilling integrity, social responsibility and ensuring sustainability.  For me, this is the more inspiring and workable way to teach business, marketing and entrepreneurship – imagine the power of C-A-R-E-S in empowering entrepreneurs for more sustainable business growth.
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Chiqui Escareal-Go is the Chief Executive Officer of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc., an advocacy-based training and consultancy firm focused on marketing, sales, strategy and innovation.  For feedback, write to
mentors@mansmith.net or log on to www.mansmith.net, for more information.