Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Art of Listening

Or perhaps, more accurately, the art of asking questions.

Saturday we completed Step 7.5- the General Assembly, with the Cristo Rey group (where I am facilitating the 22 step process of forming a Community Credit Enterprise). Maria Marta Padilla, founder of FINCA-Costa Rica, came to clarify doubts/questions of the group, and check in on my work as a facilitator.  

Two new members making their arrows (these are taped onto the 22 step process, to mark where we are)

Last Tuesday I was in FINCA- Costa Rica’s offices, discussing the regulations Cristo Rey had written and the parts they hadn’t yet defined, the cost of affiliation and the activities they can solicit loans for. Cristo Rey decided to wait for Maria Marta's advice to define these sections. Maria Marta advised me that the group knows best, they have the answers- you just have to ask the correct questions.

Cristo Rey is quick to ask for FINCA-Costa Rica’s recommendations, but it is crucial that all their decisions ultimately come from within the group, because really the business is theirs, FINCA-Costa Rica merely acts as a guide in the formation. Once the 22-steps process is over, the group will be running all aspects of the business themselves, and need to believe in and understand their regulations if they are going to comply with them.

Returning to Saturday’s session: we ended up discussing the regulations in depth, trying to write concrete rules for the business to follow. Due to new members in attendence, we didn't end up getting to the "main course" (more on that later), but there were some good nuggets from the afternoon...

Lesson 1: If your question is met with crickets: focus the question down. That may seem obvious, but I listened to Maria Marta ask the same question FIVE times, getting more and more specific each time. Example: we were defining the types of activities that would be approved for loans, and the group was having a difficult time defining them. She started by asking “What activities would you solicit loans for?” Enter crickets. She kept getting more specific, “What types of productive activities would you solicit loans for?” Followed by, “What types of agricultural projects would you ask for loans for?” And the answers flowed out- “Planting Christmas trees, blackberries, orchids”. Bingo.

They needed to hear the question framed in a manner that they understood.
Sra. Maria Marta Padilla, asking the right questions
So the right questions had been asked, and the regulations finished- it was time to buy the first stocks!  Fortunately, three new members arrived, but, unfortunately they weren’t informed that today was the day to pay affiliation(3,000 colones or $6) /buy stocks (5,000 colones/stock or $10) and thus arrived without money. Without buying stocks, you cannot vote (one stock=one vote), which is why we had to postpone the two main tasks-buying stocks and electing the board of directors- for the next week.

Brining me to Lesson 2: Patience. It’s better to do something correctly, rather than to rush things. And what is one more week in the grand scheme of forming a business? So, everyone is coming next week with their wallets full, and (hopefully!) their homework completed of imagining who will make a good president, treasurer, secretary, fiscal, and member of the Credit Committee. 
English class Graduation potluck at my house last week. Next up: Intermediate Part II