Paul Fisher has consulted for small businesses, served on negotiating committees representing both management and union interest, and taught accounting courses for more than 30 years. He holds a BA in philosophy from St. Patrick’s Collage, an MBA with a concentration in labor relations from California State University, and PhD in education from Oregon State University.
Read about Paul’s experience volunteering with the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Program and learn more about how to volunteer with ACDI/VOCA.
In October and November of 2021, I was fortunate enough to volunteer with ACDI/VOCA through the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Program. Though my assignment was remote because of the ongoing pandemic, I supported students from Osh Technological University’s Food and Agricultural Production Department in the Kyrgyz Republic.
My assignment had two objectives. One was to train students to launch their own small businesses. Globally, small businesses are the backbone of an economy. The 40 students had ideas about how to start new ventures, such as hair salons, bookstores, chicken ranches, and flower and vegetable farms. We shared different hopes of success and fears of failure; the sharing was rich and engaging.
The second objective was to provide the students with an English immersion experience. The concept was to have the students speak and write in English about what may be an unfamiliar subject. I feel they learned at a deeper level than they would have by taking a conversational course. We accomplished both objectives, and, for me, it was very rewarding.
From Dreams to Concrete Business Plans
My assignment lasted two weeks, and we met six days a week. We discussed the advantages of having a business plan and how to strategize and leverage strengths. We also learned how to identify and avoid many operational threats. We spent time discussing different products and services and how the services were the same while the products were different.
It was thrilling to see and hear how the students improved their understanding and fluency. The instructors worked with student phrasing and diction and were always kind and considerate.
Connecting in an Increasingly Virtual World
For me, the experience was well worth the effort. We worked on a shared meeting platform and were able to record our sessions. I was able to see not only the student and instructors but also their environments. On one occasion a student in a park showed the surrounding landscape, which was remarkable. Sometimes the connectivity and program availability made our conversations challenging, but we were always able to get back on track.
This shared experience was enriching for me. Talking with and seeing students from different places and cultures was something that I never would have been able to do on my own. Now I want to go meet the instructors and the students in person!