March 21, 2003: Headlines: COS - Mali: Business Development: PCVs in the Field - Mali: Paciic Business News: PCV Steven Chang works in Business Development in Mali

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mali: Peace Corps Mali : The Peace Corps in Mali: March 21, 2003: Headlines: COS - Mali: Business Development: PCVs in the Field - Mali: Paciic Business News: PCV Steven Chang works in Business Development in Mali

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PCV Steven Chang works in Business Development in Mali



PCV Steven Chang works in Business Development in Mali

Peace Corps recruits business expertise
Prabha Natarajan Pacific Business News

It was a daily ritual for Steven Chang and Bourama Dembele to sip green tea with sugar in a shot glass and talk about Dembele's store in Dougoulo, Mali.

"He was my best friend in Mali," Chang said. "He owned a convenience store and had about 30 products on his shelves. It was smaller than the cosmetics section at Longs. I saw him every day. We talked about how much money the store made, where do you want to take the shop, ideas he had for the shop analyzed sales and revenue. I think after two years I helped him become a better businessman."

Chang traveled to Dougoulo, a village of 4,500 people, as a Peace Corps volunteer after graduating from the University of Hawaii with a business administration degree about three years ago. He's among 410 Hawaii residents who have served in the Peace Corps since 1961.

The Peace Corps thinks it can recruit more volunteers from Hawaii, especially specialists in business development. It opened a recruiting office at the UH-Manoa campus last month in a bid to increase the number of volunteers and raise awareness of its various programs.

"There usually are not a lot of Hawaii volunteers as there is not [as much] interest here as on the East or West coasts," said Sydney Iaukea, Hawaii's Peace Corps recruiter.

That's one of the reasons the San Francisco regional office, which oversees Hawaii, decided to open an office here.

"People have the impression that Peace Corps volunteers are social workers and community workers," Iaukea said. "There are many positions for business advisers who can help set up small businesses in small communities, teach technical skills like how to do a startup plan and different levels of business planning, and train people with basic skills on how to run a business.

"It's sustainable development," he said. "We don't have a lot of tools and just have our basic knowledge and willingness to put together whatever the community wants from us."

A Peace Corps volunteer typically invests three years and three months in an overseas project and spends two years of that time in a community within a foreign country. The Peace Corps pays for transportation to the country, a monthly allowance, medical coverage, 24 vacation days annually, and $6,075 after the completion of service.

Iaukea plans to talk to the UH business school to generate interest in Peace Corps programs that develop entrepreneurial skills and credit programs for women.

That's how Chang heard about the Peace Corps and got recruited to go to Mali in West Africa.

"I was interested in doing some kind of consulting work for small businesses, interact with entrepreneurs and work with them on a personal level," said Chang, whose previous business experience was helping his father operate a manapua truck in Kaneohe.

Chang worked for Nyesigiso, a savings and loan operation in Mali, as Dougoulo's community liaison for two years. Nearly 80 percent of the villagers live on subsistence farming and have no money to spend on goods, or to set up a business. However, Dougoulo is a regional business center thanks to the weekly fair that brings vendors and shoppers from 10-15 neighboring villages.

"There were more stores and entrepreneurs in my village," Chang said. "Most of them have their own mom-and-pop operations, primarily convenience stores, which sell tea, sugar, cookies, matches and slippers.

"My task was to help them out with their business plan," he said, "and if they want to take out a loan help them understand what they were getting into and make sure they had a good business plan to follow up. I was basically out there to promote savings."

Most borrowers defaulted on loans business and personal because they didn't understand how the system worked and hadn't planned before taking the loan, Chang said. Nyesigiso, the savings and loan operation, made its profit on the 21 percent interest it charged on all loans.

"That rate had to exist for the operation to exist," Chang said. "Of those people who had taken out loans, some were in a good position to take a loan and make that kind of an interest payment. But for most, I was advising them to save a little bit at a time and eventually have enough so as to not take a loan. I was trying to run the savings and loan company out of business and telling people don't take loans and save instead."

Chang also taught an introductory business course to ninth graders at the local school to give them a head start in understanding the world of finance.

For all of this, Chang was paid a $130 monthly allowance and lived in a two-room mud hut with no running water or electricity.

Reach Prabha Natarajan at 955-8041 or pnatarajan@bizjournals.com.





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Story Source: Paciic Business News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mali; Business Development; PCVs in the Field - Mali

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