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    Learning To Run a Business

    Learning To Run a Business / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
    Posted on October 22, 2015

    14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 21 October 2015 — In the middle of
    Los Sitios neighborhood, in the heart of Central Havana, the Jesuits
    have a project focusing on the neediest sectors of the population. The
    elegant façade of the place contrasts with the humble homes surrounding
    it, where so many families face the drama of an alcoholic father, a
    daughter working as a prostitute or a teenager in prison. The Loyola
    Center programs are for them, and for those who face these problems daily.

    This project of the Society of Jesus, which has other sites in
    Cienfuegos, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba, was inaugurated in January
    2012 and since then has not stopped growing. In the mural at the
    entrance of the imposing building, there are announcements for dance
    classes for girls, support for single mothers, and computer and language

    Of particular note is the “Basic Course for small business management”
    that began its 13th session this September. Of the 120 people who
    applied for admission, just over 80 came on the first day and now there
    are fewer than 50. Both students and teachers believe that this course
    is a success.

    Darien Garcia who directs the courses is a graduate in accounting, age
    38, with the rare virtue of believing in what he does in a country where
    many people of his generation dream of emigrating, or simply stand
    around on a corner to pass the time. This young man spent eight years
    teaching at the University of Havana and has now been at the Center for
    two and a half years.

    The teacher explains why more than half of those enrolled do not attend
    the course. “This drop off is because, when they see that we don’t teach
    any get rich quick tricks here, they leave the course.”

    “Of all the current students, only 15% have businesses, another 10% are
    on the verge of starting something, and the rest are State workers who
    want to move to the private sector, single mothers who are housewives,
    and others who are about to be.”

    The basic course lasts two-and-a-half months and is divided into phases:
    the introduction, which includes vision, mission, analysis of the
    environment, business objectives and target market; a second phase with
    all the tools of the process: accounting, finance, costs and management
    of resources; and a third phase with legal aspects, taxes and more
    emphasis on business ethics. The latter class is given by priests. In
    addition, every Wednesday at 7:30 pm there are lectures on various
    topics with free access.

    “We take advantage of the opportunity to teach values in the solidarity
    economy, like how to make your business grow without crushing others,
    which is very complex. We have students with professional training, some
    with university degrees, but also some with warped ethics, which we try
    to address. It is very curious how some, when they confront a problem,
    the first thing that comes to mind is to apply a fraudulent solution,
    whether to resolve things ‘under the table’ or to deceive the consumer.
    Here we pass on business ethics, an economic system of sustainable
    development, that respects people and the environment.”

    Adapting to current circumstances, this course also teaches how to
    manage non-agricultural cooperatives and offers thematic courses such
    administration and working in teams. For the coming year a course is
    planned on the principles of food service, another on financial
    processes for private businesses in Cuba and the second round of
    “managing cooperatives,” which includes a topic very popular in State
    enterprises: internal control.

    “In Cuba we have the idea that internal control is a method to keep
    employees from stealing,” explains Darien Garcia. “But, in reality, its
    objective is to improve a business, to make it more efficient and
    effective.” In the case of cooperatives, it is not mandatory from a
    legal point of view, but it is essential for the health of the business.

    In the previous 12 terms, with more than three courses per year, more
    than 240 people have graduated. In 2016, there is a proposal to measure
    the impact of the project on a society slowly evolving, changing
    paradigms and lifestyles.

    One of the most interesting dynamics happening is that at a Center that
    teaches how to run a business, students are given tools based on
    knowledge management and then they have to confront the known
    limitations that still confront entrepreneurs.

    “We are based on the principles of economic solidarity and
    sustainability, that don’t limit the accumulation of wealth, but that
    make the students understand that to achieve their personal well-being
    they have to also achieve that of those around them. We work only within
    what is legal, understanding that drugs, prostitution, weapons, are all
    illegal. We confront the problems of many who believe that they know
    everything, and limit themselves to copying what has been successful.
    Some go to the extreme of wanting to copy the successful, and if someone
    puts the sofa in that position, they also want to put it the same way,”
    explains professor Garcia.

    Across the country there are now 440 registered non-agricultural
    cooperatives, of which 400 are operating. On the other hand, the law
    only allows for 211 self-employment occupations, some of which are
    described so generically they can encompass any work, while others are
    defined so rigidly that they leave little space. All of this is talked
    about and discussed in the Loyola Center classrooms and hallways, where
    the embryo of the new Cuban middle class may be being formed.

    “Today, there are businesses, including cooperatives that even though
    they don’t accumulate property, they accumulate wealth, for example in
    construction,” explains Darien Garcia. “What we propose as a social
    project of the Jesuits in Cuba is not to strengthen those who have the
    most fruitful businesses and the higher economic and cultural levels,
    but to reach those businesses in more difficult conditions, those that
    are emerging. Our social mission is to be where the most deficient
    sectors of society are.”

    Source: Learning To Run a Business / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar |
    Translating Cuba –

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