Over the past couple of months Francis and I have been working with three schools on our School Business Proposal Program. As I described briefly in earlier blogs, this program is designed to help the leaders in a given school (the head teacher, chairman of the PTA, Nuru school representative) brainstorm innovative income-generating projects that are geared towards providing practical learning opportunities for students and extra revenue for the school.

Beyond just thinking through fresh ideas, the program provides training on how to develop a thorough business plan over about a three-month time period. At the end of the three months the school will not only have a detailed plan for how to bring in extra income for the school, but the head teacher and chairman of the PTA will have the skills necessary to duplicate or expand this process to other income-generating projects they may want to start down the line.

One of the schools we are currently working with in this program is Nyametaburo Secondary School. Right now Nyametaburo SS is the only secondary school in our seed project. The school was established just three years ago as a day school geared towards students from the local area whose parents value higher education but are unable to afford to send them to one of the more prestigious boarding schools in the district. The school has a lot of potential for growth, especially as the farmers’ capacity to pay school fees increases due to the significant rise in crop yields gained through Nuru farming techniques and seed/fertilizer inputs. As the student population continues to rise, the school will need to expand its teaching capacity with more classrooms and qualified teaching staff. The School Business Proposal Program will help equip the school’s leadership with the skills they need to financially cope with such an expansion.

After a couple of initial brainstorming sessions, the head teacher and school chairman decided they would like to pursue a dairy cow project. Generally speaking, a dairy cow could provide a great opportunity for students to practically apply lessons they’re learning in science, agriculture, and math subjects. In addition, fresh milk is in high demand in the local area, and would certainly provide a steady source of supplementary income for the school.

The only problem is that such a program requires a project manager who is knowledgeable in dairy cow maintenance, familiar with secondary school curriculum, and trustworthy with money – a tough combination to find. As eager as the head teacher was to pursue the project, he is a complete “townie” and has never raised animals of his own.  Furthermore, most of his teachers seemed hesitant to take on the extra responsibility of overseeing the work. For a couple of weeks our business proposal project was at a standstill as we sought out potential candidates to manage the project.

Two weeks ago the head teacher called to inform me that he had found the perfect candidate for the job. The man’s name was Murimi and he had just been promoted to be Nyametaburo’s deputy head teacher. He was transferring from a nearby boarding school, where he’d been notorious for his strange affinity for keeping livestock on the school grounds so that he could watch over them between classes. The man was a teacher and he loved his animals… seemed like a winning combination to me!

We met with Murimi just a few days later to describe the dairy project, explaining that we needed to find someone who was reliable, knowledgeable and interested to head up the work. A smile fanned across as his face as we asked him if he’d be interested in taking on the role as manager. He explained that he had been trying to start a project like this for years at his old school, but that the administration hadn’t been interested.

We warned him that we still had a lot of work to do before the project could actually be launched. There was a lot of information we needed to gather, details that needed to be hashed out and budgets that needed to be made before we could even think about purchasing a cow. Murimi listened closely, taking notes as Francis and I detailed each aspect of the business proposal program we needed to develop over then next couple of months.

At the end of our first meeting we asked him to do some preliminary market research that we could talk about the next time we met. We requested that he research all of the potential start-up costs for the project, such as the price of building a cow pen, purchasing an animal and supplies, etc.  Murimi assured us that he was ready to do whatever we needed to get the project running and would have everything well prepared for our next discussion.

Yesterday we met to go over his findings. He had done his homework… and then some. Upon arrival Murimi presented us with a four-page typed business proposal, encompassing each part of the business plan we had outlined to him in the prior meeting. He had done market research, outlined a plan for student involvement in maintaining the cow, predicted monthly expenses and revenues. Everything we had outlined to him as a summary was there!

Of course, some of the proposal’s components need to be further developed, but the basic framework is there. While we reviewed his hard work, it was apparent that the new deputy head teacher was eager to learn how to improve his project proposal. As we wrapped up our meeting Murimi chuckled, “Keeping cows is very straightforward work. But this, this is quite technical,” he explained.  I assured him, we’d already done the most difficult part – we’d found him! The key for such a project to succeed is finding solid leadership to take responsibility for its success. The rest is going to be quite easy. I can’t wait to see how our ideas translate into real life in just a couple of months!