Microaid hero

“LivePlan helps me forecast the best that I can, so I can be the best that I can.”

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

This often–quoted Chinese proverb speaks to the need to educate and empower people rather than leaving them at the mercy of others. Richard Beresford of MicroAid, an NGO that uses the Internet to connect extremely low–income people to global resources that can help lift them out of poverty, has a slightly different interpretation of this quote.

“ ‘How to fish’ is the business plan,” he says. It is one of the main tools that help people start a profitable enterprise. When the families he works with are ready to create a business plan, Richard points them to LivePlan. He likes the software because it is simple to use, yet powerful enough to provide all the tools micro–entrepreneurs need. “The fact that LivePlan is online opens up an opportunity for low–income families to share in the business management experience of successful global and local enterprises,” he adds.

Richard was born and raised in the United Kingdom. His father was the managing director of Heinz 57 and his mother was an actress. He studied agriculture in college and travelled extensively throughout Asia and Africa. Over the years he supported himself by working in television in Zimbabwe, teaching chemistry in the United Kingdom, and running various small enterprises. Those early ventures in selling everything from fudge to health food didn't really work out. However, those experiences helped pave the way for Richard to start a highly profitable consulting company called Masdar International, with his friend Mick Slater.

In 1984 Richard sold his shares in Masdar and moved to Indonesia. He worked for a United Nations microfinance program called P4K, and the experience helped him identify his real passion in life – helping poor families earn money.

A business plan is one of the main tools that help people start a profitable enterprise. When the families he works with are ready to create a business plan, Richard points them to LivePlan.

Providing very small loans to potential entrepreneurs was one step in helping people earn a living, but it wasn't the end–all, be–all, Richard discovered. ‘Direct funding to low–income families through conditional cash transfers (CCTs) are now recognized as a most effective tool in the fight against global poverty,’ he says. ‘However, low–income families still suffer from information asymmetry – not knowing how to use CCT funds profitably. Often they do not use the CCT for sustainable livelihoods enterprises purely because they do not have a good plan on how to use this new cash windfall received. Without the ability to learn, they are often left behind as their traditional livelihoods passed down from their parents and grandparents are no longer relevant, profitable or possible in the new world where they live.’

Richard and a client in Aceh, Indonesia review product packaging

What the families Richard worked with really needed was a way to learn about the range of business opportunities available to them. Did they already have expertise they could turn into a profitable family livelihood? If not, what skills could they imagine using in a business? And how could they improve those skills enough to achieve financial stability and find a way out of poverty?

Closing that information gap became Richard's mission. In 1997 he started MicroAid with the goal of connecting people with the technology they needed to access information and skills from the global marketplace. The NGO, based in London and Jakarta, gives micro–entrepreneurs the chance to see many different types of home–based businesses before settling on the one that seems right for them. The Simple Steps program explains ideas using easy to understand photos and text for those with the entrepreneurial skills but limited literacy. Once families have selected the business they want to pursue, MicroAid helps them find information and resources to start that venture.

He worked for a United Nations program, and the experience helped him identify his real passion in life — helping poor families earn money.

Richard serves as MicroAid's managing director. His son Toby is the organization's technology director, and Lhaksamana Jaluwardhana (also known as Jalu) runs things in Indonesia. The majority of the MicroAid's clients reside in the southeast Asian nations, but MicroAid's tools are available to people around the world.

The ability to access technology and use social media has been a game changer for low–income micro–entrepreneurs around the world, Richard says. They can take classes on business skills and conduct Internet research on key components of what they need for their business plans. They can also identify who else in their social network might have skills they can utilize, or businesses with which they can partner.

Microaid uses LivePlan to build business plans for the micro–enterprises of those trying to break out of extreme poverty.

Since so many great tools already exist, MicroAid's focus is on helping people locate and access them. In that way, Richard says, what they're really doing is “providing a little practical help to families so they can find profit in their livelihood and take that first step on the economic ladder. Capital is a scarce resource needed to run and expand an existing business. But market knowledge and production skills are the main ‘livelihood capital’ that can be owned by anybody.”

“A big part of Microaid's mission is addressing educational gaps for entrepreneurs in poor areas through skills training.”

That's why Richard points them to LivePlan. “This is the essence of LivePlan: providing a structure that entrepreneurs can use to gather their ideas so that they can understand the whole process. LivePlan also provides the tools to present the whole to others, whether they be market buyers, lending banks or production group friends.”

Entrepreneurs working with MicroAid have used LivePlan to ensure their financial calculations add up before sending them off to potential investors, Richard says. The software's pitch feature is great people who only need a one– to three–page plan. Small business owners can use LivePlan to access sample business plans that show them what their peers around the world are doing and how they can achieve similar success.

Currently, the software is being used by an online Indonesian chocolate shop called Socolatte.com, a café at the local university, and a company developing a mobile app for handline tuna fishermen. Whatever the business, these tools are making a big difference for some of the most remote small enterprises around the world. Teaching people to fish is a literal and figurative part of Richard's goal of helping poor people at the bottom of the financial pyramid rise to the top.

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Richard's nonprofit uses LivePlan to build business plans for entrepreneurs fighting extreme poverty.