Hewlett-Packard Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs (HP LIFE) program is designed to assist micro-entrepreneurs in low-income communities to expand the potential of their businesses by providing training on information and communication technology (ICT) skills together with business skills. The program aims to reach students who are thinking of starting businesses, as well as small-business entrepreneurs wanting to expand their businesses, through partnership with training centers across the globe. Currently the program partners with 340 centers in 49 countries, reaching 60,000 students via face-to-face training, and many more via its online applications. These centers range from university-based agencies to rural community development centers, to urban training institutions.
HP LIFE training consists of four thematic areas (Marketing, Operations, Communication, and Finance) and five levels corresponding to the stages in business development (Imagine, Plan, Start, Grow, and Innovate).The HP LIFE curriculum covers a range of topics related to entrepreneurship skills and to using information and communication technology (ICT) management tools in business. The first level is for young people who do not have their own business but contemplate it; the second and third levels are for those who have a business idea and are in a planning stage; the fourth level is for business owners to help them expand their business; and finally the fifth level helps entrepreneurs take their business to a new level.
The first two levels focus primarily on business skills and introduce some ICT tools that can help organize or present information. The subsequent modules have a greater emphasis on ICT skills, assuming that participants at this stage will already have a solid understanding of the business skills they will need to utilize ICT. By Level 5, participants need to be comfortable with complex ICT tools. Every topic in the HP LIFE curriculum begins with theoretical information; then a practical exercise, reflection, and discussion on how they might apply and consolidate their newly acquired knowledge; a business-challenge case study; introduction of a technological solution to that challenge; and discussion on how to use the technological tool in the real business world.
An evaluation was conducted in 2011-2012 by Education Development Center (EDC) under the USAID-funded EQUIP3 Leader Award. The evaluation study focused on testing two underlying assumptions regarding ICT tools on which the HP LIFE curriculum is based:
Reports and evaluation tools can be found on the How to Obtain tab.
The Hewlett-Packard Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs (HP LIFE) curriculum is well-organized and uses a consistent format throughout all the modules. It uses a participatory methodology that engages learners through engaging narratives and interactive activities to introduce key entrepreneurship concepts and skills. The curriculum effectively incorporates technology; it does not feel forced or feel that it is “technology for technology’s sake.”
In terms of weaknesses, the curriculum could incorporate a wider range of interactive activities, such as role plays, individual presentations, guest speakers, and field trips. These types of activities could further reinforce the curriculum’s KSAs and, based on my experience, help engage learners and facilitators/trainers, alike. Another weakness is that HP LIFE does not explicitly address the soft skills required to be a successful entrepreneur. Many organizations and donors are now focusing their attention on building these transferable life skills into entrepreneurship and workforce development projects, as they have been shown to be critical. Negotiation, teamwork, and handling conflict are a few of the skills that could help strengthen HP LIFE. Also, the curriculum does not include a module on access to financial services, which for many new entrepreneurs is a major hurdle. Understanding what the options are, and how to access formal and non-formal sources of credit, could enhance the curriculum. Another area that is growing in entrepreneurship education is social entrepreneurship. It would be great if one of the case studies presented used an example of a person starting a social enterprise. Finally, while many of the stories address this indirectly, a module or activity about support webs--either individuals or organizations--could be beneficial for participants. Working with coaches and mentors can be extremely beneficial to new (and experienced) entrepreneurs. One final weakness of the curriculum is that, aside from the first and possibly second level, participants need to live in communities with strong information and communication technology infrastructure.
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