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No frills traveling MBA program from TREES (Part 2)

[Editor’s Note: I originally wrote about the education social enterprise “TREE Society” (Training Resources for Enabling Enterprises Society) back in April. In the past few months, they began their fifth pilot (at Timbaktu Collective) and also revamped their website. So what I’ve done is split the original post (it was a bit long) – this is Part 2 of the post with a few updated sections.]

….continued from No frills traveling MBA program from TREES (Part 1)

First Five Pilots (Updated)

Timbaktu Collective provided the inspiration and played host for the first CREAM pilot where 18 participants were trained from Jun-Dec 2009. This was followed by a more elaborate (and slightly different) pilot with the Kerala state government from Feb-Aug 2010. In partnership with Kudumbashree (Kerala’s poverty eradication program), the CREAM program was delivered to 31 Micr0-Enterprise Consultants (MEC’s). This was a ‘different’ pilot because the 31 MEC’s also functioned as trainers, training a further 270 MEC’s. The third pilot was conducted in Jharkhand. The host organization was Vikas Bazar Network (a coalition of 17 NGO’s) and the 18 participants were all senior NGO staff. The fourth pilot, hosted by the Udaipur-based organizations Seva Mandir and Ajeevika Bureau, is currently underway. The unique aspect of this pilot is that majority of the 30 participants have very low literacy levels. The fifth pilot is a business viability training program with Anantpur-based Timbaktu Collective – participants are Directors of Mutually Aided Thrift Cooperatives who play the role of “Loan Officers”, counseling borrowers who want to start enterprises in sheep rearing, poultry, mill production, and tea/grocery shops.

Tree Society Core Team

Ranjeet Ranade (Society President & Faculty)

Liby Johnson (Society Secretary & Faculty)

Ram (Society Treasurer & Faculty)

Arup, Bablu, Jayapdma, Richa, Ruchi, Zenobia, and Rukmini (Faculty)

The total faculty size is currently at 20 with professional experience in operations, marketing, strategy and finance. The faculty page on their website has more details.

Program Cost

The Rs. 16,000 cost per participant (based on a class size of 30) covers honorarium, travel, and accommodation for the faculty and the translator. This is the primary cost component.

The secondary cost component pertains to local logistics for the participants and is borne by the hosting organization.

Interview with Ranjeet Ranade

I asked Ranjeet (RR) a few questions on organization philosophy, impact, and scaling considerations which are best shared verbatim as a Q&A.

TS: Why did you guys incorporate TREES as a non-profit society and not as a for-profit company?

RR: The society’s mission is to conduct training programs of various duration, on business management for small and micro enterprises as well as for NGOs involved in rural enterprise development. Incorporating as company will not necessarily get in the way of this goal but may distract members of the society in thinking in terms of profits.

TS: How many students will be graduating from the CREAM program by end of 2011?

RR: Based on the faculty strength, we are now in a position to concurrently run at least two programs. Ideally we can run about four programs in a year. Assuming an average strength of 25 participants per batch, our target could be 100 per year. However, we have not been doing active business development so I don’t see more than two batches being run in 2011.

TS: What about the growth in faculty pool? And how many programs will each faculty teach per year?
RR: The immediate goal is to increase faculty pool in the metro areas of Delhi and Kolkata. We now have a critical mass in Mumbai and Bangalore/Chennai area. So the target for faculty would be an incremental 10 people (over the current 20) in Delhi and Kolkata. We only expect the core faculty members to teach two programs in a year. Most of the other faculty are expected to teach only one program in a year.

TS: Any of the core faculty team likely to go “full-time” if the student enrollment (# of cohorts) hits a certain threshold?

RR:  No. The “other” main point of creating a TREES platform is to allow people to operate on a part-time basis. For anyone to go full-time, there has to be adequate financial compensation which TREES can’t give so there is no question of anyone wanting to do it full-time as it can’t sustain them.

TS: What would “wild success” look like for TREES?

RR: We are still in the pilot phase. The one thing that the core team has agreed on is that scale is not our worry at this point in time. The current focus is to ensure that the course material is stable (which it now has become), that it creates a positive impact (which is being assessed by gathering data on businesses before, during, and after the program), and then the scale can be addressed or may never be addressed.

TS: Website live yet?

RR: Website is live here and has been recently updated.

Closing Thoughts

The TREE Society (TREES) is not in a terrible hurry to scale. And why should they? The motivations and end goals of CREAM graduates (“starting a business”) are very different from those of traditional two-year MBA graduates (“getting placed somewhere”). It certainly behooves TREES to continue monitoring their preliminary pilot programs (and graduates) to see how many are starting businesses (or joining an enterprise and applying their newly-learned skills), how many of them are successful. Some of these metrics are a bit long-term in nature so I’m going to go on a limb and say that this program WILL be successful.

The most interesting aspect of the TREES platforms is the “part-time” faculty. Unlike programs like Teach for India, which require a two-year full-time commitment, an ‘entry’ faculty for TREES needs to commit a minimum of only five days – which maps to one of the seven training modules for a cohort. A satisfying experience for some faculty might compel them to sign up for additional teaching engagements/modules.

After spending years in the corporate world, I can’t help but theorize about how any organization (however fledgling it might be) could scale. In the case of TREES and their no-frills MBA program, I wonder if the California-based model can be emulated by TREES someday.

[Disclosure: Ranjeet Ranade, co-founder and President of the TREE Society, is a neighbour and good friend.]