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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