By: Si Eun Lee
I remember the first day Zoya and I met to discuss our business work. I remember us saying, “Wow, it’s going to be very long three weeks.” And on the last few days, we told each other about how time passed so much quicker than we expected. During the past three weeks, we have not only learned to implement the business skills we were taught in school, but we also learned to think in the minds of the small business owners.
At first, working with Irene felt awkward. We did not understand how her business operated and so had to ask her many detailed questions. I was rather confused by her response to our frequent visits. She seemed welcoming, but she was also reluctant to bring in any changes we suggested. To think back, I think she needed some time to adjust to us. After all, although we were there thinking we were being helpful, in their eyes we might be viewed simply as foreigners who are suddenly trying to change their business around. Also, even though we tried to explain to Irene multiple times that the changes will benefit her in the future, it may have been hard for her to trust us since she has never done it before. Moreover, at the end of the project I realized that I have been continuously emphasizing to Irene the long-term benefits the implementations would bring to her. However, in reality, she was concerned not with the future, but with how much money she will be able to bring back home to her family that day. Thus, asking her to incur big expenses now to gain future benefit may have seem like a burden to her.
I didn’t realize this at first though. So, when I noticed that Irene wasn’t being cooperative, I did not know what to do and felt let down. I came to Philippines hoping that I would be able to learn and experience a lot. I did not expect that so many ideas would be ignored.
In order to show Irene that we were eager to assist her business in any way, Zoya and I visited the eatery even when we did not have any planned meetings. Looking around the competitors, asking questions to their customers, and conducting customer surveys. When we wanted her to create an accounting record, we hand-drew charts in a notebook and explained to her the benefits and the steps. When we wanted to hand out coupons and pamphlets to customers, we made a sample before asking her for a permission, so that she will have a better idea on what we wanted to do.
For about a week, it sort of felt like she was trying to avoid Zoya and me. We would go see her on the time we discussed beforehand and the workers would tell us that she left work early that day and would not tell us when she would be back. On the last week, however, I visited her without any prior plan, sat down with her, and explained to her everything we had been doing, trying to show her that we would do nothing that might harm her business. That day, she opened up about the financial problems she was facing and how tiring it is to operate the business, things she had not told me about. That day, I finally learned about what kind of Irene needed but sadly only had few days left to work.
(Irene learned to make her own accounting book!)
(Irene-approved posters we handed outside the market)
It seemed like three weeks was too long to do one project and to write one report. At the end, however, I realized that it was more than that. It was about interacting with them and to truly feel the troubles they go through that we cannot find in big cities like Hong Kong.