Two worlds are colliding and the results can only be fun.
I am sitting in the Impact Investing conference organised by the South African Network for Impact Investing (SAII) and hosted by the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) and you can see it happening.
There are those of us from the nonprofit background (clearly visible as we don’t wear sharp cut suits or impossibly high heels) and those from the financial world, who talk a strange language of bonds and equity and use acronyms as if they are pronouns.
I often think that the jargon of business is designed to be intimidating so that those of us on the periphery are forever excluded, like little children not invited to the Top Dogs birthday party.
But this week, I had one of those moments where all became clear and suddenly it made sense. I missed the choir of angels and harps accompanying my epiphany, but it was no less dramatic.
We are all saying the same thing - just differently.
There are fund managers out there looking (yes – looking!) for social enterprises to invest in. This took a long time for the fundraiser in me to understand, as these moments are few in the nonprofit world.
These fund managers will take you through a rigorous process assessing your business, your future growth and your ability to survive independently of traditional grants and handouts. You are after all, a business. They do however, despite the sharp suits and high heels, seem to have a heart. They are just approaching us from a different angle.
So no longer can nonprofits assume that business does not understand the world of social service delivery. They bring new insights, which we must acknowledge and respect and vice versa.
So this is the Big Bang, where the world of for and not-for-profits collide.
It is a change in thinking.
We know that the traditional funding model - of dependency on finite grants, and hard-won subsidies - cannot last.
The financial stress and pressure that we all largely operate under means that we can never think ahead. We are always worrying about the now, rather than the where do we want to be.
Impact Investing may not be your thing, but the thinking of this new approach has to be explored and interrogated.
Because it encourages you to develop a social enterprise - a business wing that supports the delivery of social services. Because it is passionate about measurement and accountability. Because taking on financing forces you out of the cushioned security of grant funding and means you have to face up to your own organisational risk: ‘Will it work?’ takes on a whole new meaning when you have to pay the money back.
And let us be honest. This is exactly what the nonprofit world has been calling for. We have just been using different phrases that ask for new funding streams, greater accountability and transparency, as well as ownership by all.
So. Sparks will fly, as our worlds slowly collide. But Impact Investing has gravitational pull and its going to be hard to resist.
- Kerryn Krige is a freelance advisor in development. She has worked for some of South Africa’s leading non-profits as a fundraiser and programme manager. She started off as a journalist and moved into the non-profit sector in the United Kingdom, working for traditional charities and social enterprise. She has worked in East and Southern Africa and is passionate about building the capacity of the nonprofit sector. You can get in touch on email@example.com.
- “After my son died, one of my employers’ children suggested that I come up with something to keep myself busy, so that it could help me heal. I loved sewing so I decided to start sewing”. These are the words of Martha Letsoalo, former domestic worker and now director of the Heartfelt Project, a growing presence in the field of hand-made South African crafts.
Established in 2006 by Letsoalo and Julie Hadley (the latter is the managing director), the Heartfelt Project is a social enterprise aimed at developing the community of Makapanstad in North West, through the creation and sale of a range of beautiful felt products.
It also has a vision of providing hope, employment and a sense of purpose for hundreds of women in rural communities throughout South Africa.
The Heartfelt Project offers a diverse selection of hand-made gifts and felt products, including bookmarks, brooches, key rings, fridge magnets and many others.
They also offer specialist wedding gifts, bespoke gifts for corporates as well as a new ‘bushfelt’ range of safari-inspired toys and other items.
The project plans to get more women and men within the community involved in the initiative. It currently employs 15 women from Makapanstad, who use traditional handcraft skills to create the products.
According to Hadley, a percentage of the profits made from sales is donated to community development initiatives such as HIV and AIDS and TB non-governmental organisations and charities in Makapanstad.
“For us, sharing our success with the community is very important. We want people to feel a sense of pride and ownership in Heartfelt and what we have achieved with the project,” she explains.
However, despite the good work and successes to date the company still faces certain challenges, such as a lack of office equipment and human resources to run the project effectively.
“We do not have very up to date equipment for the office; we do not have enough chairs, we need new computers and transportation is a challenge, “explained Letsoalo.
The project has been acknowledged in the past for its work and has received several awards and accolades; in 2009 it won the Bronze award for Best Individual Stand at the South African Handmade Collection at Decorex, as well as a craft award for corporate gifting at the Platinum Programme Provincial Craft and Design Awards the same year.
The Heartfelt Project is also one of only 85 organisations chosen nationally as a beneficiary of the Old Mutual Legends Business Development Programme, which supports the team at Heartfelt through mentoring, business support and skills training.
“One thing I have learned through being a part of Legends is that even if your business has a social mission, it is so important to run things in a professional, strategic and businesslike way. All our future plans and dreams will be realised through the success of our project in its current form, and this means having great products, fantastic service and strong systems on which to build and grow,” says Hadley.
The Heartfelt Project is expanding, and initiated a similar project in Rosendal in the Free State Province recently. It seems like they have got the recipe for job creation and social entrepreneurship just right.
For more about the Heartfelt Project, refer to www.theheartfeltproject.co.za.
- Abram Molelemane is Media Intern at Fetola.
Earlier this year I applied to the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) to study their course in social entrepreneurship.
It’s a phrase that smacked of jargon, and one which I felt I probably knew enough about anyway – I set up a social enterprise (unsuccessfully) in South Africa, so it wasn’t an entirely new concept.
But with the possibility of an Anglo-funded bursary through Tshikilulu Social Investments, I wrote my application form, attended my interview - and was accepted.
It is nearly a year later. We wrote our final exam on the weekend, and my brain is full of ideas.
The course has been life-changing.
I changed my job because of it and will probably change again because of it.
In fact, who knows, as it has turned what oddball career plan I had, upside down, shook it some more and then batted it out the stadium.
I find that I am swimming upstream. I have ideas swirling in my head that go against the grain in nonprofit world.
I’m not saying mine are right, but being able to think differently is invigorating.
Being able to justify and reason my thinking with back-up from the Harvard Business Review - well! It’s such a change, tackling that frustration I believe we often feel in the nonprofit land, when you’re operating on instinct and can’t really justify why you’re saying you should do what you believe you should be doing.
The course has taken me through things I know, to things I thought I knew and didn’t know and then completely into the realm of discovery and adventure.
I find I can see ahead. My crystal ball is a lot less blurry and now has things like visions and missions in it.
I can see how things are going to be. Funding is tight, partnerships are essential and we have to be innovative.
This is exciting. It doesn’t scare me like it would have before. I think we have an opportunity to reshape our civil society to be more autonomous, independent, more vibrant in short less scared, bullied and threatened by failure.
All this is because of a course at GIBS - the academic heart of grey suits and capitalism?
Believe me. It’s worth it.
I’m not the one making this change.
It’s GIBS which is creating the space for change.
I encourage as many people as possible to sign up - the more they attend the course, the more change we’ll see in our world. As Harvard Business Review so eloquently puts it, we need a movement with momentum to create change.
So to adopt a capitalist cliché, just do it.
For more on the course, click here.
If you’d like to chat about the course, please get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Kerryn is the Director: Communications and Income Development at Child Welfare South Africa. This is written in her personal capacity and in no way reflects the views or approach of the organisation.