Spot a Problem, Spot an Opportunity

Having free time for a person who used to have no free time may be a luxury at first.  But after a couple of weeks, your body starts to ache and your brain starts to scream demanding to be exploited.  So to satisfy the demand of my brain and body, I started to think about what I can do to kill my time, while I wait for my counseling project to start (hopefully very soon) I have been ‘stalking’ the students at the Indonesian International School of Yangon.  For the past three weeks, I have been sitting in the canteen, watching the behaviour of these students when they enter and leave the canteen, what food they buy at certain recess time and what drink they prefer with their purchased food.  Weird?  Actually no.  In fact it was quite interesting how these students behave.

My finding is that these kids don’t like to queue and they enter the canteen from almost all directions.  As a result, kids bumped into each other, and the canteen staff could not monitor who have paid and who have not.  A total chaos, and the presence of the parents who just love to sit around the canteen benches, eating and chatting add up to the already chaotic canteen – hence I spot a problem.  In terms of their eating habit, they like to eat sushi (with sausage or crab meat instead of raw fish filling), hot dog, fried chicken, and they prefer flavoured drink than water at any time of the day, whether it was recess at 10 am or lunch at 12 noon.  These are non traditional Myanmar food, and these kids love them.  Though most of these kids brought food from home, but for one reason or another, they still buy food from the canteen – hence I spot an opportunity.

Now that I have spotted a problem to fix and an opportunity to act on, I was determined to do something.  Step 1 was to fix the chaos.  I introduced an ‘in and out – one way’ system so kids will enter from one end and get out from the other end.  The cashier was moved from inside the canteen to outside the canteen.  To anticipate a big crowd, a couple of canteen workers were spread out to function as a ‘mobile cashier’.  Did I get any resistance from the others?  Of course!  I just hate it when people say “cannot” or “impossible” without even trying.    Parents are no longer aloud to sit in the canteen area, instead a specially prepared area is provided for them to sit around.  On day one this system was introduced, kids were suprised when they were told to get out of the canteen and enter from the entrance provided, some complained and whined, but persistence and insistence are required to create a habit.  Surprisingly, the second day was better and within one week the students were used to the new system.  The parents however are a different story.  It was much more difficult to ask the parents to sit in the area provided for them.  In the first week these parents would automatically leave the canteen area only when they saw me.  It was obvious that who ever was on canteen duty did not do what I did.  So instead of asking the parents to move myself, I would ask the others on duty to do so, I did not take any excuses.  On the second week these parents automatically sit in the area provided for them.  Who says that this system is not possible?  It is possible as long as you want to try it and be  persistent and consistent.  Hence you can always teach an old dog new tricks.

Step 2 was to act on the opportunity I saw.  You will not find McDonald’s burgers or Kentucky Fried Chicken or Pizza Hut in Yangon, but most of these kids been overseas before and know the taste of fast food from these restaurtants.  That’s why a KFC wanna be fried chicken the school canteen is selling is certainly a favourite among these students.  So why not try a burger and why not try to teach Aya to be an entrepreneur? Did I get any resistance?  Of course!  Burgers will not sell, you will not make money out of it…. blah….blah….blah…..!  But curious with how the students respond to a burger, with a capital of KS 2300 from Aya’s savings, I tried making 4 chicken burgers which I cut into half and sold it at KS 500 for half a burger that Aya took to the canteen.  I made one for Aya and told her to eat it in front of her friends and that it is available in the canteen – a simple marketing strategy.  Word of mouth spread fast, within minutes the half burgers were sold out.  Aya came home with a very big smile on her face and she told me she brought home with KS 4000 from the selling of the half chicken burgers.

It was not the money that satisfy me because the amount is really tiny, but it is the effort to try something different that satisfy me a lot.  When everyone at the school and embassy said that my idea to re-arrange the canteen and discipline both the students and their parents were turned down, I just went ahead and tried it myself.  Now that everything seems to be in the right order, I have to start thinking of something new to try – a new improvement project.

While the canteen is operating in a more orderly fashion, I successfully sparked Aya’s interest to start a small business of her own.  With the money she earned she had bought packets of chicken burger and plan to buy burger buns on the weekend for Monday.  She told me that she felt really good to earn her own money, with her own effort and she no longer want to be like I used to be – an employee.  Now she wants to be an employer, owning her own business 🙂

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