Several years ago Peace Corps volunteers in Panama developed a business planning seminar. Participants come to the seminar all expenses paid over a period of two weekends a month or so apart. Peg and I attended this years version with two people from our community.
The seminar talks about all the basic aspects of planning a business. This first weekend dealt primarily with the quantitative aspects, such as what your vision and mission are and goals and objectives. The next weekend will cover qualitative analysis, for which there is a fabulous spread sheet that projects all the costs and incomes.
The teaching approach in most PC programs is oriented to the adult learner, so there is a lot of facilitation as distinguished from lecturing. There were lots of dramatizations and a few group activities (dinámicas in Spanish), which were entertaining if nothing else, although the former always had a point connected to the upcoming activities.
We invited Julio and Daniel. Julio wants to develop the family agricultural business by selling organic fertilizers, fumigants and insect repellents they make for their own use. Daniel bought the corner gas station that was abandoned 10 years ago when the coop failed, which he said was due to mismanagement. He converted part of the property into apartments, which teachers are renting and wants to add a fueling station, tire repair facility and perhaps a coffee shop and small grocery store.
Julio has attended a lot of seminars and is currently studying agricultural marketing at the University of Panama extension in Rio Sereno. He does not seem to need much help to have good basic computer skills and writing skills, although like most of the Spanish speakers I have known he tends to write run-on sentences. Daniel has lots of good ideas and seems to be well organized. He made things happen quickly and efficiently at the old gas station right after the purchase. However, because he did not do a business plan, it was not until after he bought the property did he discover he had not borrowed enough money to pay for installing the fuel tanks. We call this ‘ready, fire, aim.”
On Sunday, one of the volunteers had to leave so I was assigned his client, who already had a business plan for her coop. She needed to make some changes, some of which Tom had already done. It was not until the end did I learn that they are planning to transition to organic agriculture and needed a plan for that.
Most of these seminars take place at a government facility run by ANAM, the environmental agency. It is called CEDESAM and is very near a luxury resort called Decameron. At night we often walk the mile or so to the casino which is across the street from Decameron. You can play the games or have a light meal and a beverage at the bar. There are few people playing the games, at least the times we have been there.
CEDESAM is near Decameron but it is quite far from it in terms of luxury and in the level of maintenance. While there is indoor plumbing, the toilets run constantly so you often find the one you are about to use has not been flushed. I spend what seems like hours removing the tank covers to push the flap down so the tank can fill. The toilets have been this way at least since last October. There are missing panes in the jalousie windows so the a.c. has to work harder to keep the one dorm room with a.c. cool, so if you are near it you are extra cold but farther away you are a warm. As you can see maintenance is not a Panamanian talent.
Dorm living is one of my least favorite things to do. This time there was an overweight Panamanian who snored all night. Daniel loves to wake up at 530 am and turn on the radio using his cell phone so you can imagine the sound quality does not make being awoken early any more pleasant. It being Panamanian music does not help me one bit. By breakfast time I was in no mood for scrambled eggs, which I do not like. But at least this time other PC volunteers returning at 3 am speaking in loud voices was not a problem for me, although it was for Peg both nights. We have another weekend of this coming up, and I have a week long seminar where I will be sharing a house with maybe 10 other volunteers. Hmmm, I wonder why Peggy does not want to go.
All this distracted from what was a well thought out and delivered seminar from some of the neatest people I will ever meet, but they are so creative and dedicated the distraction is comparatively minor.