Building an entrepreneurial mindset from childhood: Helping BMA Students become Self-Sufficient

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration or BMA, the governing body for the city, has over 428 schools under its management, with up to 15,000 teachers and 350,000 students. BMA is responsible for providing health and human services.  For education, this includes daycare center, primary and secondary schools, adult schools, community colleges and one university.

“Entrepreneurship, financial literacy and citizenship are the core life-skills that these students need”

For the primary and secondary schools, they are run separately to those under the authority of the ministry of education, and often serve the poorest communities. The children who attend the schools are in economic difficulty so they often unlikely make it to higher education.  They are expected to end up joining the blue-collar work base across the city.

The teachers work under difficult conditions due to the nature of students, and need to be creative to engage the students in teaching and learning, especially the fundamentals.  It is with some of these teachers and their students, most aged between 14 and 16, that we spent a Saturday, working with them to build an awareness of what might be possible. We did this as part of the Education & Skills Committee of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce of Thailand, under the leadership of the Chairman, Professor Kongkiti Phusavat.

“Building self-confidence in these students is essential”

From our initial discussions, we decided that helping students understand entrepreneurship at this stage in their lives, could potentially open doors that they may not have access to otherwise. This entrepreneurship together with financial literacy and citizenship represents the life skills that individual students need.  Professor Kongkiti’s long experience with this group of students and teachers, made us realise that along with basic business tools, something really important that was required to help the students, was to build their self-confidence.

Another key aspect of engaging with this group was to not only teach the students, but to give their teachers the pedagogical tools that they could use to spread this knowledge across their schools. Because the students level of English was not strong, the professor and I worked together to deliver in both English and Thai.

“We used simple leadership development tools to help these students engage”

Over a period of five hours, we used some very common leadership development tools, including icebreakers and self-awareness techniques, to get the students to self-reflect and begin engaging with the own strengths as individuals and as groups. The energy and enthusiasm with which the students jumped into these activities was inspiring, and the visible increase in their confidence about how they could move forward was energising. Following this we got them to grapple with some simple business tools such as a SWOT Analysis.

One of the things that made this process easier than expected, is that most BMA schools have at least one item or product that they produce as part of their curriculum. In the group that we work with, this ranges from handmade soaps, to traditional scents based on cultural literature, and bags made from recycled material. This meant that they already had a base for a business, despite their lack of knowledge about how to move from producing something, to selling it profitably and sustainable. It was in this area that we were probably able to help most, as the tools that we shared, what useful for the students immediately, and at the same time help the teachers understand what was required to build additional capacity at their schools.

I have been invited to visit one of the schools that we worked with, and I look forward to that as the next step in a continuing journey of collaboration and development with the BMA.

The Value of Customised Leadership Development

We collaborate closely with our clients to design and deliver completely tailored solutions. We help organisations build the leadership capacity they need to achieve stretch performance goals. Our focus is on a leader’s ability to not only think strategically, but also implement that strategy effectively using core leadership competencies such as collaboration, influence and sense-making.

“standardised classroom training has little or no effect on leaders’ performance on the job” 

A McKinsey report (Gurdjian, Halbeisen, Lane, 2014) highlighted the billions spent annually on leadership development. Right now, some offerings from business schools can cost $150,000 per person. This makes sense in an environment where leadership development is a key concern for business,  but does it work? Contrast the fees with the only 7% of senior managers in one survey who believe their companies develop leaders effectively, and the gap between desire and delivery becomes blindingly clear.

Traditional training disregards the systemic nature of business, and does not leverage organisational wisdom

A fundamental reason for this failure is that leadership development as it has been, is an imitation of learning processes at schools and universities. There, theoretical knowledge is taught in chunks of internally coherent material through presentation/ lecturing and written content.  Recent research in the field shows this type of traditional classroom training has little or no effect on the performance of leaders in their roles. However, many organisations still see this as the core of internal development processes, and many leadership development organisations sell just that. We don’t.

Our approach of exploration and co-design for all our programmes, ensures that we commit the time and effort up front to ensure that any leadership development is targeted to address the specific challenges and context of the organisation, and allows leaders to engage their experience and organisational knowledge. This allows them to easily turn the learning into practical and implementable solutions.  Each learning opportunity within a program is aimed at providing either a specific tool for practical problem-solving, or creating a new perspective to allow for a different understanding of the context, and therefore a new way to engage with business challenges.

“We develop capacity to engage with the organisational system and thus create real impact”

Anyone who has been on a traditional leadership development program, realises soon after they get back to their desk that for some reason, all those great ideas that made so much sense in the classroom, now seem impossible to put into action. The reason for this is twofold.

Firstly,  academic teaching has as its basic aim the development of human knowledge, whereas leadership development, to be effective, has to to address real challenges in an organisation.  In order to practically use the skills and knowledge gained from traditional teaching based programs, leaders need to independently find ways to translate this knowledge into practical and contextual solutions, which adds several layers of complexity.

Secondly, The generic and non-specific nature of theoretical content, means that it does not take into account the immediate context of the organisational system in which it is meant to be implemented. Thus it disregards the systemic nature of business, where trying to change one part of it has repercussions on the rest. So any attempts to change the system, cause the system to push back and try to reach its original state of equilibrium.

This makes change very hard to implement and maintain. This type of program, also does not take advantage of leaders’ inherent knowledge of their own organisation, and thus does not leveraged organisational wisdom to create meaningful, practical solutions.

“we use the latest and most impactful learning tools and processes to ensure that real learning takes place”

We already know teaching and learning are not the same thing. Learning requires much more then sitting in a classroom passively absorbing content from slides and presentations. Our approach of customised design, incorporates the latest research and the most impactful methods to create learning experiences that provide leaders with the practical footing they need to go back to work and engage directly with the challenges they face more effectively.

This includes discovery journeys to other organisations, journeys of self discovery through mindfulness, solution-driven small group engagement, and a variety of other tools and processes that have shown themselves to be effective in creating meaningful personal growth and organisational change.

“our solutions address both current challenges and effective preparation for the future”

In order to maintain sustainable success over long-term, Organisations need to develop their potential talent in readiness for succession. However we do not just provide learning to deal with immediate problems and the challenges, we also support organisations in preparing for the future, developing a deeper leadership bench-strength and a strong pipeline of talent to ensure ongoing success through leadership transitions and changes.

While we help current leaders engage with immediate business challenges, we also help organisations develop their future talent to deliver the long-term vision of the organisation.  The development of an organisation’s talent pipeline is done in close collaboration with organisational talent management teams where possible.

*(McKinsey Quarterly – January 2014; Why leadership-development programs fail By Pierre Gurdjian, Thomas Halbeisen, and Kevin Lane)