Should It Be our Business to Promote Business Training?


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Firms in developing countries face many constraints, from lack of access to finance and physical capital to poor infrastructure. Recently, however, there has been a growing focus among researchers on “managerial capital”, or business skills, as an important determinant of entrepreneurship in developing countries. Policymakers have been equally interested in the perceived deficit of managerial capital, and have been pouring resources into financial and business literacy education programs around the world (see my earlier post on The Fad of Financial Literacy?).

Yet we still have a very incomplete understanding of the effectiveness of these programs, and their specific impact on business outcomes. Until recently, there were only two completed randomized impact evaluations of business training programs in developing countries: one in Peru for rural women, which found positive effects on certain business practices but not on profits (Karlan and Valdivia, 2010), and the other in the Dominican Republic, which found that basic rules-of-thumb-based training had a greater effect on business outcomes than formal business training (Drexler, Fischer, and Schoar, 2010).
We contribute to this sparse literature by conducting a randomized evaluation of business training on slightly larger, more established businesses run by young entrepreneurs in Bosnia Herzegovina. In addition, we have data on  potential entrepreneurs who had outstanding business exploration loans with our partner financial institution.

Our 5-session business training course covered basic business concepts and accounting skills, as well as investment and growth strategies, with a particular emphasis on the importance of up-front capital investment.

Both the setting and the sample are of special interest for several reasons. As an emerging post-conflict economy, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a low business survival rate, as well as a very high rate of youth unemployment (about 58 percent, 2007 Labor Force Survey). Both factors contribute to making business training programs a high-value proposition.

We find that financial literacy is a strong predictor of baseline financial and business outcomes, consistent with the existing literature. Further, our experimental results show that the training program led to significant improvements in basic financial knowledge for those who start out with low levels of financial literacy at baseline. Our results on business outcomes, on the other hand, are quite stark. We do not find any significant impact on business start-up or survival. However, we find that among businesses that survived, the impact of business training is quite significant. These businesses exhibit improvements in business practices and investments, and business owners with higher levels of ex-ante financial literacy further exhibit improvements in sales and profits.
Our analysis indicates that while business training programs can have a significant impact on surviving businesses, particularly for those entrepreneurs with higher ex-ante levels of financial literacy, in our context it does not seem to affect business start-up or business survival itself. This is perhaps not so surprising in a country like Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is recovering from war and lacks a host of complementary institutions and environments for healthy business growth.

One aspect that is quite clear is that business training has positive effects on businesses that do survive, encouraging them to implement production processes and make investments that they otherwise would not have. This is promising, given that the course specifically emphasized these behaviors. The course seems to have been particularly effective at promoting business growth for those entrepreneurs who exhibited higher levels of financial literacy at the baseline. Policymakers might therefore consider targeting business training resources towards existing firms, with an emphasis on particularly teachable behaviors.


Bruhn, Miriam and Bilal Zia (2011), “Stimulating Managerial Capital in Emerging Markets – The Impact of Business and Financial Literacy for Young Entrepreneurs,” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 5642

Karlan, Dean and Martin Valdivia. 2010. “Teaching Entrepreneurship: Impact of Business Training on Microfinance Clients and Institutions,” Forthcoming, Review of Economics and Statistics.

Drexler, Alejandro, Greg Fischer, and Antoinette Schoar. 2010. “Keeping it Simple: Financial Literacy and Rules of Thumb,” LSE Working Paper.


Bilal Zia

Senior Economist, DECRG

Join the Conversation

per soderberg
June 11, 2011

One reason for the limited effect on business survival might be that sometimes we in the donor community seem to treat every poor person as a potential entrepreneur. Thus we give a large number of people training regardless of their future potential as entrepreneurs (which by the way is terribly difficult to establish beforehand). Perhaps the fact is that relatively few people in any given population are entrepreneurs, just like in high-income countries. So I find it not so surprising that established entrepreneurs are more likely to make use of training than those starting up. The latter often, in my experience, are rounded up and interested because they want to get out of poverty (or because we want them to) rather than rounded up because they have promising ideas. So it could very well be a targeting problem and the all so usual problem of "good intentions". So, to me, to focus on adding to the toolbox of the more or less established actual entrepreneur might be the best way to go - as suggested above (I think). What do to for the rest is perhaps for other disciplines. There is a risk in relaying a thinking that to address the problems of unemployment all you need to do is start your own business. Sometimes I feel that is what we are doing. Perhaps also our toolbox needs to be bigger. Well, now I am digressing, so I better stop. Anyway , thanks for an interesting post!

Kow Sam
June 07, 2011

It is very important to note that Entrepreneurship does not automatically mean skillfulness. The need for training is very eminent as it goes a long way to sharpen their risk bearing capabilities and also give true value to what they seek to achieve.

They only have risk bearing capabilities but it can only be sustained with the right training