Sunday, March 14, 2010

Contact Me

I use the name Alanagh Recreant in many social networks - borrowed from Second Life. I also use metaMeerkat.

I guess it was originally a bit of a buffer to protect my privacy. The pseudoname has since grown on me. You are welcome to contact me in one of the various ways listed here. Thanks for sharing my journey online as we wade through endless information.

The easiest is via email:

in reference to: Alanagh Recreant - Google Profile (view on Google Sidewiki)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Non-Profit Social Enterprises: An Oxymoron

Today, in Twitter, my attention was grabbed by a 140 characters little headline and my immediate thought was: if ever there was an implied oxymoron, this was it: It simply hints that one should differentiate between 'for-profit' and 'non-profit' social entrepreneurship:

The link posted leads to the respected website on the topic of "Social Entrepreneurship" and an article by Nathaniel Whittemore with the redundant reference to 'for-profit' in the title that deserves attention: "The State of the For-Profit Social Entrepreneurship Field". It is a good article and thought-provoking.

It is indeed unneccessary to so feel compelled to include 'for-profit'  in the title (as if the other kind exists) and after reflection, I can only say that entrepreneurship has at its heart ENTERPRISE and PROFIT (thus, an oxymoron to speak about 'nonprofit' social enterprises or social entrepreneurship). Much more valuable is the comment that entrepreneurs or companies are becoming more socially orientated in their thinking and ideas as they explore emerging markets.  They may very well move into the space of nonprofit delivery, and (I have to say) some times in a more sustainable way due to better business practices and acumen.

In the same way,  and at the other end of the spectrum, traditional 'nonprofits' (a term I have never liked as I prefer 'public profit') find their way into other forms of generating income. This does not make these 'charities' or 'civil society organisations' now suddenly for-profit at their core - but it makes them clever and enterprising in the way they raise funds for charitable work through entrepreneurial ventures.  Afterall, Uthango itself just kick-started  another venture, called vuvuzela unPluggedTM, for the purpose of generating an income for operational expenses. Many 'non-profits' are led by very enterprising people with very strong desires to be independent from "grant-taking".  And many leaders of non-profits are opening their eyes to the social value of economic activity, because they are forced by the global economic crisis and socially-savvy corporates to reconsider options. I totally agree that entrepreneurship could be expected to be social as much as it is profitable:
"I think that recognizing the social value of economic activity at the root of entrepreneurship helps us re-calibrate not only what we think social entrepreneurship looks like, but what we expect all entrepreneurship to mean".
So what are we looking at then? Companies and entrepreneurs (with a focus on profit and viability) moving towards a social agenda and Civil Society organisations (with a focus on social gain and sustainability) shifting in the direction of an economic agenda. And in the middle we find the meeting point of social entrepreneurship - by its very definition FOR PROFIT and FOR SOCIAL GAIN.  I maintain that nonprofit social entrepreneurship does not exist, in the same way as for-(personal)-profit charity work has no place. 

As our own organisation debate our existing projects vigorously to position it as social enterprises OR funded socio-economic projects, we find ourselves reflecting on the basic principles of good business. 

I am thinking, it is unfair to compete with a 'non-profit' status in an entrepreneurial market place and use grants and donations to generate profit as it distorts the market.  However, in a competing world, where those companies and entrepreneurs with financial assets could enter the arena where civil society organisations thrived in the past, it is equally unfair that the social deliverables of these organisations are now engulved by corporate agendas. Surely, the middle way lies in recognising the best in both worlds and collaborating in partnerships (and building capacity) rather than reinvent the wheel either way??

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Consider this an Invitation to Africa

It is five years since an article from the UN News Centre warned: "Donor fatique, cynicism could lead to millions of death in Ethiopia". And today, it seems to me that there is not only donor fatigue, but donor paralysis has stepped in. And who is to blame them?? Well-meaning people take their hard earned cash and hand it over to respected international aid agencies in the hope to make a difference.  Then, the scandals  and stories of corruption hit the media - true or not - and taint the process . Hearts and hands close. One recent story that broke on CNN caught my attention, simply because I remember well how upset I was with the images  of dying children as a young  South African in a rural town, quite sheltered from realities of Africa by our self-important leaders at the time:
An investigation by the BBC has found just 5 per cent of the money raised by Live Aid and Band Aid actually made it to the victims of famine in Ethiopia. Instead, the millions of dollars of international aid intended to buy food for starving Ethiopians was used by rebel groups to buy weapons. The 1985 Live Aid and Band Aid concerts, organised by Bob Geldof in the UK and the US, raised $250 million.
The comments on this article are even more interesting and disturbing, and show the disillusion of people with aid projects, and their future intention to do it themselves instead and not support the agencies any longer (let alone local agencies), like MiWi saying:
There is only one way to ensure that AID is received by those in need and that is to deliver it personally and ensure that the intended recipients actually receive it.

Let me say outright that I believe many lives were INDEED saved by the funds tof the 80s that found its way to Ethiopia at the time. I do believe that there were good people in the country and at these aid organisations, and good people with good intentions are still working tirelessly to make an impact on poverty. However, most of the time,  its not enough to WANT to do just DO something, anything that seems to be a great! idea .  Do yourself a favour like I did and spend a few minutes with entries at this blog - part of The Charity Rater: Good Intentions Are not Enough


Oh, and I am not pointing fingers at all. Our own organisation made its share of mistakes and learned some wonderful tough lessons in this regard.  Good intentions.  Some of our projects not executable due to realities that were unforeseen at the time.  Some even in our virtual world of Second Life. This is as much part of the business of development work than it is of any other kind of business practice. Change is inevitable. 


The point is: there is value in respecting local civil society organisations when implementing local projects, simply because it reduces the risk of being wrong. More importantly, it becomes indispensable to LISTEN. And this is very much the new thinking of social innovation that has been emerging in development community since the 80s when Africa still stood with a grateful open hand, and the best minds in international development came "to solve its challenges". Some Universities like Stanford Graduate School of Business took the lead in a discourse on different and more appropriate ways to deal with social problems than a top-down hand-out of resource and intel - see there Centre for Social Innovation.


We need to rethink the models of giving. In a big and bold way. We need to distill the lessons learned and unpack them into uncompromisable principles that apply globally to all agencies operating in developing countries. Poor people without skills should not become the marketing vehicle for the latest 'bottom-of-the-pyramid' product nor the 'convenient angle' to any other superior agenda of self-enrichment or power. Which is exactly! why I am so over the moon with the newly launched EVOKE multiplayer serious game on social innovation and social entrepreneurship:


I would encourage any parent and educator to encourage young people to play this game, to become an agent. It will change minds and shape views. I am in love with it. I have the greatest respect for the developers, the World Bank Institute with funding from Infodev and the Korean Trust Fund on ICT for Development. (And by the way, do look at the most amazing project related to spacial data and the Millennium Development Goals - also by InfoDev). The team describes their aim with the EVOKE serious game as:
EVOKE is a ten-week crash course in changing the world. It is free to play and open to anyone, anywhere. The goal of the social network game is to help empower young people all over the world, and especially young people in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems.
Life is no game - especially not for people living in hardship every day. We all know this well. However, their is much to be said for using the principles of games in learning about development in the world. In the first Mission in Evoke as 'secret agent', we are called upon to 'shadow a social innovator' and to listen and learn from someone we respect. This is the best possible way to start in development. Absolutely! For us, the Uthango iPekX tool generates indigenous knowledge for decision-making prior to social investment. We know not to develop where we could not listen, or are not listened to.
Why then does THIS simple principle of listening with attention not apply when international well-meaning and good intentioned development workers and volunteers and academics land in Africa, with a healthy budget and sense of adventure? Listen to local organisations and enhance their financial and skills apacity as long-term inheritants of any programme. Marieme Jamme the CEO of SpotOne Global Solutions, is one of my favourite motivational speakers and strategists and makes many more good points about 'How NOT to give money to Charities working in Africa'. My favourite hint is this one:

11. Why not consider a visit to Africa to see for yourself before donating ...

Maybe then we will not have so many paralysed donors now...because we will have confidence in the ability of social innovators from Ethiopia and other African countries to evoke the change we seek... And maybe we will not be so quick to judge...
Ps: Consider this a personal invitation.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Just a Convenient Angle

We had a verbal commitment with a company for the past eight months: We shall assist them to network and find a suitable investor needed for a project in South Africa and in return, our organisation will be contracted to do much-needed community development work attached to their initiative. We believed them, and after some standard due diligence, was excited about the relationship.

And we prepared the paperwork. We had meetings. Our lawyers look at it. We emailed the agreements after a solid verbal agreement on roles and logistical support. A commitment was made by them to sign "later" when "the time is right", and "later" eventually became eight months...despite our consistant nagging...

Its predicable. We finally got the interested investor three weeks ago. Excited about the prospect to respond to one of the communities on our list.  Finally. R35 million. Fantastic people. And the 'partner' we trusted for months, turned around and shared with us in honesty, for the first time: It surfaced that they never had the intention to develop the local communities sustainably as we proposed, but that development of poor communities was a 'convenient angle' to raise funds for their initiative. The deceitful snakes (for lack of a better word) showed their true colours two weeks ago and we immediately laid down tools and talents from our team. Using the social capital and networks of our nonprofit and our staff members, and logistical infrastructure and systemic support (as a convenient office away from home) for pure personal gain is simply not cool. Worse: It is indefensable. 

We informed the investor - who asked us how they could trust the people who we could no longer trust.  We had a good conversation.

I wonder how we could let this happen?? How could we possibly trust the one representative that we dealt with - so much. Looking into someone's eyes and saying - we trust you to honour your agreement - is just not enough these days. We were a 'convenient angle'. I should have trusted my instincts. Get the paperwork signed before hoping for promises to be kept. We should have stepped away. Opportunity lost. Time spend on a project that could have been time spend on raising funds in other ways - not relying on a 'partner' that now appears to do business without an ethical compass. How could we have been deceived for so long, so well, so cleverly?? Damn.

And the question that lingers with me... Are nonprofits and social enterprises and social innovation and social investments and responsible bottom-of-the-pyramid development and access to microfinance...all these.... are all these terms cleverly disguised capitalism and just 'covenient angles" ?? 

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