Survey Says...

This week's blog comes from Chet Polson, our resident e-card sender for any major and minor holiday, petty cash administrator, and most of all, the only person who has given us his guest blog on time (even early!) every single time he's scheduled. For all of those reasons and many more, WE LOVE YOU CHET.

"Ahoy 'Scrubs' Fans,

All of our first courses for the quarter are winding down, but rather than reflect on our first round of classes I am going to fill you in on something a bit more timeless: microfinance. Erik and I set a lot of big goals for the quarter (including starting to shadow with EPV and getting ready to teach the small business class we were trained for in the fall) but one of our most interesting goals is trying to survey the small business climate in the communities we work with. Now I can hear your eye-muscles contract as you are thinking, “Why on Earth would they want to SURVEY the place?”

Well sure, we already have SOCAT, the large community survey that was conducted two years ago. But SOCAT holds a snapshot of community assets (like skills) and areas where there is interest for possible growth. We are interested in a more robust picture of current business practices to get an idea of how small business is conducted currently and for possible ways to improve it. Right now, we are most interested in how businesses get what they are selling. Let me illustrate our interest with an example.

While there are many tiendas in Rumiloma, there is one I visit frequently about a block from the bus stop on the way into the Centro. I pop in and try to buy a 20 cent, glass bottle, returnable Coke before class when the mood strikes me (it strikes frequently). However, when the owner happens to be out of Coke, it will literally take her weeks to restock. I would probably buy a whole palette’s worth of Coke in the time it takes to restock, so she is losing out on a profit. During these “times of thirst” she literally has to tell me every time I walk in “Oh, Tuesday,” or whatever the next random day may be, so she knows she is out and someone wants to buy one. Many of the other tiendas don’t even sell coke in this size bottle.

This is the kind of example that makes Erik and I want to know more about overall current business practices than just anecdotal evidence. If our assumptions hold, there might be room for business cooperatives. To stick with the Coke example, maybe it would be best for all the tiendas in the area to place one big order directly with Coke, have it delivered weekly, and then just split up. But the honest answer is we just don’t know enough about how businesses work where we are, which is why we need to start with a survey.

We put some time into crafting this survey, and in one page, it covers a lot of areas of possible interest. We ask about business name (a basic question, but useful for advertising), number of employees, where they get their supplies, accounting procedures, and current loans and plans for future growth. The goal is to survey every business in the area: every tienda, every furniture maker, every welder, every internet café. Our official goal is to survey 50 businesses by the end of the quarter, and while we plan to do that, we very well could be surveying for the next several months. Erik and I will be administering the surveys orally to business owners in the area, so it will be a good chance to practice my Spanish and meet some community members who may not have visited our program space just yet. Hopefully by the end of the quarter we will have a big enough sample to see some general trends and have the ability to increase the business capital in the area in some form.

I’d attach a copy of the official survey as well, but I’m sure I am already over my word limit.

Song of the Blog: “Voice of the Voiceless,” by Rage Against the Machine "

What Chet does when he isn't microfinance-ing or teaching

- Jackie