This is the first of a four-part guest blogger series from MBAs Without Borders‘ Kathryn Svobodny on her 5-month advisory experience with READ Global.
Imagine that you are an entrepreneur with a high quality, in-demand product, but you can only sell your products to your neighbors. You live in a rural village with poor roads, and the only transportation into town comes just once a week. You are illiterate and don’t have access to computers or the Internet to sell your products online.
This is the case for many entrepreneurs in developing countries like Bhutan, India and Nepal – where I spent the past five months as an MBAs Without Borders Advisory with READ Global.
42% of the world’s poor live in South Asia. For many of them, entrepreneurship is the only option for employment. Particularly in rural areas, activities like agriculture and handicraft production are important sources of income for villagers to financially sustain themselves and their families.
Small businesses can create a ripple effect in rural communities. As entrepreneurs become more successful, they hire additional workers and buy more supplies, increasing the number of jobs and cash flow within the village. By developing or growing existing small businesses, entrepreneurs have the opportunity not only to increase the wealth of their household, but also to be a catalyst for change throughout their community.
READ Global works with all of its libraries to develop sustainable enterprises that generate revenue not only to cover the READ Center’s costs, but to increase incomes for individuals in the community as well. This allows libraries to thrive with little outside support, while also providing additional value to the community. Some of these revenue-generating activities include renting out guest rooms, operating gift shops, or leasing sound systems and AV equipment to local organizations.
As part of my assignment, I am evaluating replicable small business models in rural areas in these countries. The businesses themselves are diverse, but many have similar challenges.
1 One challenge that many micro-entrepreneurs are facing is how they can reach an appropriate market to sell their products. Most live in a rural village with poor infrastructure and limited transportation options to bring their product to a nearby city. Although they are motivated to sell more products to more people, they are not always able to connect to a large number of customers.
2 Many rural entrepreneurs lack the confidence or language skills necessary to negotiate with distributers or retailers that sell in larger markets.
3 A lack of knowledge about marketing and how to distribute products can be a huge challenge. Without tools or training, they cannot market their product a more discerning customer base.
4 Many entrepreneurs are unsure of where they should distribute their products. Rural entrepreneurs are not always able to research every available market option, and opt for selling their products close to their own village.
READ country offices are currently engaged in projects designed to help these rural entrepreneurs find appropriate markets to sell their goods. While some entrepreneurs seek larger markets with more buyers, others are trying to find a market niche.
By facilitating the market connections for rural entrepreneurs, READ has the opportunity to help villagers participate in formal economies, and increase wealth for their families and their communities.
From honey in Nepal, to textiles in India, and ginger in Bhutan, I met with dozens of entrepreneurs over the course of three months to discuss their challenges, and pave the way to scale businesses across READ Centers in South Asia.
Click here to read the next post in this four-part series.
About the guest author:
Kathryn Svobodny, MBAs Without Borders Advisor
Prior to joining MBA Without Borders, I worked in community and economic development in the San Francisco Bay Area for a number of years. I received an MBA from the University of San Francisco and a BA in International Studies from the University of Oregon. I am passionate about small business development, microfinance, and volunteerism.