MBA ‘degree’ for the oldies



Often, we hear success stories of young people making great strides towards a successful future, but rarely do we hear about the older generation transforming their lives, especially in terms of becoming successful business women. Local NGO, the Ubunye Foundation has helped start life again for a group of older women living near Grahamstown by enrolling them (all aged between 50 and 69 years) in a micro Masters of Business Administration programme (micro MBA).

The Ubunye Foundation is a local NGO centred in the Ngqushwa and Makana sub districts. Ubunye, meaning togetherness in isi-Xhosa, works with these rural communities employing an asset-based approach which acknowledges, appreciates and works within local strengths and structures. This means that through the median of the Micro MBA programme, Ubunye supports these women to shape their lives and, in particular, their businesses in a positive way, in line within their own capacities and hopes.

The Micro MBA programme aims to teach those already engaged in small businesses how to operate these businesses more successfully by using basic skills in planning, accounting and record keeping. The micro MBA programme is aimed at those who may not have basic literacy or numeracy skills and who may not have used a calculator or considered profit before.

This group of 10 women had already begun businesses in sewing (Vela), soap production (Nobuhle), beading (Nomnqweno) and ointment production (Siyazama) and were part of the livelihoods programme also supported by Ubunye. Having mastered the skills of production and sales, this micro MBA was aimed at taking them that little bit further in terms of managing debt and profit, invoices, balance sheets and business planning. It also enabled them to look at where, when and how to expand their sales outlets to their best advantage.

These micro MBA sessions were facilitated by Lime Badu, the Programme Coordinator at Ubunye Foundation. She facilitated the training sessions in one of the women’s houses in Ndlambe village. The women met there for three sessions: one of two days and two sessions of three days in total. On each of these days the women would concentrate from 9am until 3pm, helping each other to learn these new skills.

Mrs Saki, aged 69 years, is a successful graduate of the programme and as she affirms her life was transformed:

“I’m feeling 17 again, learning every day. I grew up in Grahamstown. We were a family of five kids – four girls and a boy…our mother taught us [girls]how to clean the house, doing washing and cooking. My mother was very strict, that helped me to do things [well]all the time and wanting to be an example to the community and my [own]children. Also I didn’t want to disappoint the people that believed in me.

The experience of doing the Micro MBA was wonderful, interacting with other people who were doing different kinds of businesses. Having to go through books after so many years was really refreshing and helped me understand how capable I am. I found new techniques a challenge like using the calculator (especially percentages!) and how to work out pricing of your product was difficult because we used to price according to what people said. The Micro MBA taught us a different way. But setting targets for your business was really motivating…it helps you to keep going.

This Micro MBA course is for anyone, those in business already or planning to start one. As much as it is challenging, if you are involved in business activity you have to be open to challenges. You must learn to do things differently, they can succeed, like me!”

Lime, who taught the Micro MBA also saw Mrs Saki’s enthusiasm

“She encourages youth to get involved too. She wants them to make something of their lives and then they can give something back to the community”.

Lime found the course challenging at times especially having to go back to basics. But she learnt that assuming older members of the community would not understand was totally wrong.

“it is just that they don’t have a platform to excel and to show what they can do. These communities have a vast resource of people who have great knowledge and capacity to learn. I love what I do, I love seeing these older ladies fly…!

Ubunye Foundation with Lime will organise more Micro MBA courses next year.

  • Katy Pepper is the Technical Advisor, Ubunye Foundation
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