Thursday, July 17, 2008

World of Work

Every Monday morning, as part of a full staff meeting in the office, all of the team leaders give a quick update on their work and the upcoming week. At each meeting, starting a month ago when I arrived, Toby –an American expat who manages the School Age Youth Entrepreneurs (SAYE) program – has given his pitch to recruit volunteers for a country-wide program that SAYE is running the first two weekends of August. It only took a couple of tries before I signed up as a Facilitator, and today we had a training session to prepare for the program.

SAYE is a voluntary after-school program started by TechnoServe in collaboration with a local NGO; it reaches schools all throughout Swaziland. The program’s targeted at high-school students, who voluntary choose to participant in a series of classes, clubs, and job-shadow programs, and aims to instill an interest in and understanding of business, as well as decision-making and other life skills. Some of the materials for the program are locally developed, but the majority of the curriculum seems to be borrowed from an international organization called Junior Achievement.

For the August event, each facilitator is matched up with a school somewhere in the country, and leads a four-hour session for about thirty Swazi students on two consecutive Saturdays. The school that I was assigned to is in Nhletjeni (“spelled just the way it sounds,” Toby said), which is out in the rural areas.

During the training session a SAYE employee led us through a series of activities and games we will run in August which are designed to convey basic ideas within the decision-making process, budgeting, investment horizons, understanding and using credit, and understanding insurance. The highlight of these was a board game called World of Work, which devolved into an incredibly intense and competitive session.

In World of Work, each player had a token which would move around the board in a ring (picture Trivial Pursuit) representing an Educational Path. As you progress along the path by rolling a die you amass knowledge (finishing high school, enrolling in college, receiving a 2-year degree, etc.) until you are a full-fledged college graduate. All the while you accrue points based on the spots where you land (you organized a study group – collect 30 points, nice work on your extra-credit paper – add 25 points, your grades are lagging – lose 20 points, etc.). Upon starting every turn, each player chooses to either continue along the educational path, or enter the WORLD OF WORK In the center of the ring.

Based upon where you are in education level, the options in the World of Work vary, as do the points you could accrue by entering it. (High school graduates earned significantly less points when progressing in the World of Work than college graduates.) However, the points available in World of Work are significantly more than those on the Educational Path. The crux of the game is when to make the decision to enter the World of Work and stop going to school. The immediate pay-off of starting to work early (by, say, dropping out of high school or not going to college) is high, but you could earn many more points by staying in school and getting your degree. (And you thought that this blog was just about entertainment, and you wouldn’t learn anything…)

During the sessions in August, the students will play two games – one with six rounds and another with nine-rounds, which hopefully will illustrate the difference between short and long-term educational and investment horizons.

In the training session today, Nick took the lead by rolling a number of 6’s and moving quickly towards getting his degree before entering the World of Work. He trounced everyone with a whopping 380 points. I made the strategic decision to move into the World of Work on my fourth move (out of six) after high school, and was foiled by a couple of curveball Junior Achievement questions which knocked down my point potential. I have a feeling that there may be a rematch sometime in the next few months – complete with a couple of Castle Milk Stouts and some sharpened elbows.

The rest of the training took us through a bunch of other activities (none quite as exciting as The World of Work). It will be interesting how it all works out in August. I feel prepared to lead the sessions, but the concepts are at times a bit antiquated and the lessons a bit jumbled. I’m also not sure what the capacity of the students will be, but am pretty excited to travel out to a rural school to see what it’s like.

I wanted to write a bit about SAYE, as it’s a big strategic and operational part of the work that TechnoServe Swaziland does, and links into the organization’s overall approach for Swaziland. I hope to write more about TNS and the programs that it runs in a future entry sometime soon.

In other news, I had another off-site meeting with Toby last Tuesday at the Mbabane Golf Club, and I only lost two balls during the round. I also learned a new local rule from my caddy, Douglas: if your shot lies in the rough within a golf club’s length of the fairway, you’re allowed to pick up the ball and reposition it anywhere within the length of the club. Toby wasn’t so sure about the rule, but pointed out that in Swaziland you’re also allowed to have many wives, and it’s up to you to pick which rules you want to follow and which you should let pass by.

Tuesday’s a national holiday here, and I’m taking Monday off to make it a four-day weekend. Tomorrow I’m off to Cape Town with Rob and Esther, two other TNS volunteers.

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