In a previous post, I talked briefly about my experience starting a social venture in 2011, at a government rehabilitation center in Nairobi, Kenya. Two to three times a week, I and a few other volunteers taught music theory, voice, and piano to a group of teenage boys. Despite the lack of know-how in kick-starting and sustaining ventures, we continued to teach, counsel, and inspire these boys until two years later when I closed out the project. In my opinion, this was my greatest career achievement to date.
I had good intentions starting that project and I must admit that being the idealist that I am, I envisioned the project taking off smoothly with no problems and becoming a great success to the extent of modeling that approach to various other rehabilitation centers in and out of Nairobi. However, this was not the case. I quickly learned that passion alone cannot sustain a venture. While it is one of the many ingredients of a successful project, there are a myriad of other factors to take into account when starting a social venture.
If you are planning to start a social venture, here are a few points you can consider.
At the beginning of the venture, carry out research about the community you are planning on engaging with. A needs assessment therefore becomes an important tool in evaluating community needs. It includes collecting information as regards opinions, problems and how the community rates these problems, allowing the community members to make and be a part of the important policies that ultimately affect them and lastly, to garner community members’ support. In addition, do not underestimate the power of culture when initiating projects in communities. One interesting yet sobering example of good intentions failing was a project dubbed Kaalokal Fish Project. In 1986, the Norwegian Government pumped a staggering amount of $152 million to alleviate food scarcity and poverty in Turkana. However, this project failed miserably with the abandonment of the fish-freezing factory, which is now only used to store small amounts of dry fish. One of the contributors to this failure was the prevailing culture in Turkana. Because the Turkana people are solely a pastoralist community, they do not value fish as their dietary staple.
In doing research, you may find that what you thought was a pressing need for your beneficiaries is actually not a need to them. It is critical for you to evaluate your intentions going ahead. Getting rid of a savior mentality allows you to have empathy for your beneficiaries that leads to their growth.
2. Stakeholder Management
When kick-starting a project, carry out a stakeholder analysis. This involves identifying who your stakeholder’s are, the amount of power, influence and interest that they have. This is key, as your stakeholder’s ultimately determine how successful your project can be.
In my case, the key stakeholder’s were the students and the administration. Both groups had high power, influence and interest. This means that I needed to create the most buy-in with them. I did this by communicating my vision through meetings and allowing them to own the program.
One valuable lesson I learned is the need to clarify what you are able and not able to do. You may start a social venture with the view to transform a community, but this may not be perceived as such by your stakeholder’s. My vision was behavioral transformation through music. I therefore had to clarify that I would not be able to meet financial or physical needs. This enabled me and my team to stay focused on our vision and allow other organizations to meet these other specific needs.
3. Plan and evaluate
Have a plan. You may have an amazing vision, but if you cannot fill it in with details on how you will carry out day to day functions, your project may never see the light of day. Such issues like money, volunteers, and management are imperative in sustaining your project.
As you go along, carry out evaluations based on what you had initially set out to do. Evaluation helps you to stay on track and figure out if you are really making the impact that you had envisioned.
In my opinion, a successful project is one in which beneficiaries view themselves as partners in addressing their own community issues. This means that at closing out the project, these individuals take a central place in driving the social change.
I would like to hear from you. Have you started a social venture or are you planning to? What are some of the steps you are taking to ensure sustainability?