Monday, September 08, 2008


The first two days of training were a couple weeks ago. One was in Masaka and the other was in Kampala and they were pretty different but both went well. There were actually no major problems with either training, just a case of not having electricity at the training venue in Masaka, we needed to do some printing so we improvised and did it at the restaurant we went to for lunch. In Kampala we had to call in backups for lunch as the arrangements fell through, but, like I said, nothing major.

The trainees, 14 in total, were a promising bunch of 11 men and 3 women from various backgrounds from working in community development to having their own businesses. They all converged on Kampala for a continuation of their training last week. This is where things started happening like I had expected them to before. I ended up being short-staffed and had to call in some favors from friends (who I am extremely grateful to), then the night before the training was to start – before we had printed most of the handouts and materials necessary for the training, the printer, that has actually been giving us problems since its purchase, stopped functioning again. This magnified the issue of being short staffed and meant someone was going to have to spend some quality time in a printing/copy shop – the Ugandan Kinko’s.

Aside from the preparations, the training again went pretty well. Many of the trainees surprised me with the number of orders they were able to get – many more than we were able fill immediately. Also the group was able to raise a total of 2,240,000 USh - nearly $1400, pretty impressive since group members' monthly income averages less $125 (even though that is much higher than the average Ugandan’s income).

There were several highlights to the training. On the first day of training in Kampala, the trainees went out onto the street to practice their promotional speeches to people walking by. I expected them to come back somewhat discouraged, like the folks in Masaka did, because the first reaction to the product for many is that it is too expensive (this is usually before they realize all the benefits of the Firefly). However when the whole group returned and we started talking about how it went, I soon found that they had actually pitched it so well that three people were prepared to come back and buy the next day. That exercise convinced any doubting trainees that this would indeed lead to increased income generation for them.

Then there was the bookkeeping section of the training. I didn’t expect it to be easy to teach but after I had explained the simple system we had to offer them and gone through several examples, I was still getting blank stares from more than half of the class. That’s when a couple of the trainees who did understand (they both happened to be business owners) and took turns explaining in Luganda (the Ugandan language used in Kampala and Masaka) to the rest of the group. After about 10 minutes most of the group was caught up and understanding the importance and the method for what they would need to do.

Finally, as is common here, the power at our training venue went out a couple times. It happened to be during a rain storm so it got quite dark in the training room. When the lights went out, without hesitation, each of the trainees reached for their sample Firefly lamp and turned it on so we could continue with the training. It seemed to be a very proud moment for Harry who had joined us for the final day of training.

So Barefoot/BASE Technologies now has our first batch of mobile entrepreneurs circulating communities and selling our principal product – the Firefly Solar Lamp.