Social enterprise, or sustainability

May 6, 2007 § Leave a comment

Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, April 2007. “You should be talking about sustainability, not social enterprise.” Those were Rich Fuchs’ words very early on in our discussion about the SustainabilityFirst! report, a plan invest in social enterprises that offer revenue generating services via telecentres (giving the telecentres a cut).

The aim of the discussion was to finalize how would roll out this global fund. In the end, we (Floro, Harsha, Loic, Eva and Rich) decided to tear up the document and start over. It’s not that the analysis in the document was wrong. There is in fact a huge opportunity for both sustainability and public good in the telecentre services space. Think of what telecentres could do if they had access to a menu of health, education and government services that they could easily offer to their communities for a small fee? Rather, the insight we came to was that a new ‘fund’ targeting a dozen or so social enterprises would not likely be enough to really build momentum in the services space. Also, we felt the fund represented a ‘grow’ (distraction) approach. We need to ‘deepen’ (our new mantra of nurturing and strengthening our existing network partners).

So, we asked ourselves: how can we push the sustainability and services envelopes through our existing networks? At least part of the answer was right in front of us at Sarvodaya. Harsha’s team had recently been approached by a number of local companies with services to offer through telecentres. And, as the lead for the Sri Lanka Telecentre Family, this team was also working with NESST to develop a new set of digital skills courses to be offered for a fee through both Nenasalas and telecentres. This mashup of opportunistic partnership development, rigorous business planning and business coaching for key team members looks like it will allow Fusion / Sarvodaya / SLTF not only to help its partners become sustainable but also to become sustainable itself.

Based on this observation, we resurrected the SustainabilityFirst! moniker and came up with a new collection of activities aimed at helping our network partners become ‘sustainability channels’. This will include a mix of capacity building and mentoring for key ‘sustainability activists’ in our partner networks as well very small as needed grant funds and a community of practice connecting these activists together. We will start developing a concrete plan on this in the coming weeks.

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