Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Great Paragraph on Social Enterprises

Rent-to-Own has been used as an example in a Next Billion Blog by Mark Hand of First Light Ventures.

I think he accurately identifies an inherent tension found in a lot of CSR-type activities, including the one-for-one model that Tom's Shoes operates under.

"Serving two masters isn't easy. When social enterprises sell goods and services that directly benefit the poor, they align their social and financial missions. Rent-to-Own, for example, finances the purchase of agricultural tools by rural Zambian farmers. The more plows Rent-to-Own finances, the faster it grows and the more families it reaches. Profit maximization also maximizes impact, and the sale of services directly to farmers creates a feedback loop that prevents Rent-to-Own from providing shoddy product. The financial and social missions of one-for-one models, however, are diametrically opposed: every dollar spent on ensuring the social impact of a donation is one less dollar of profit, and every dollar spent on driving sales is one less that can be spent benefiting the poor. This tension may be healthy and creative at first, but it is a long-term time bomb."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

3 years

3 years

This seems to be the time it takes to really know a new place. After 3 years of living in Zambia, I now feel settled, the relationships that started long ago are now strong, knowing how to make things happen is clear, and I now know what it’s like living away from home. Last week I returned to Zambia from another one of my one month trip to Canada, which I now do twice a year. Every time I go things there have changed, and I also see how I have changed. For example, in the past six months, I’ve transformed from being an NGO worker to a business owner. The business has 105 people living in rural Zambia who owe us over $100,000, and my team of people are working hard to collect this money and grow this amount to $300,000 by October.

One thing I noticed while in Canada, was the persistent lack of jobs. Extremely capable people are deciding to go back to school in hopes that maybe two years from now, with even more academic credentials, they’ll be able to find a nice job. The contrast to Zambia couldn’t be more stark. Anyone with any skills or education in Zambia is in high demand.

I recently read about the “emerging emerging markets” in the Economist. They show the statistics behind my anecdotal conclusion. They show that growth in developed countries will continue to flat-line, and that Brazil, China and India are everyone’s favourites and over-highlighted. Meanwhile, impressive growth rates exist in other countries. “The biggest concentration of overlooked markets is in Africa” where they mention Nigeria and Kenya, alongside Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan as emerging frontier markets.

The world is becoming globalized, and it is for the long term benefit of all of us. There’s no doubt in my mind. I can’t help but feel lucky to have gotten into the action a little early, and I can’t help but see a trend where supply and demand for skilled labour start to balance out – supply in the developed countries and demand in the developing. Life abroad isn’t easy, but it is exciting. Here I get to dream an idea and make it happen, all on a shoe-string budget, and all the while helping thousands of people lift themselves out of poverty.

My old job, as manager of my Dad’s cheese company, is really interesting to see now. The jobs are simple, and require nothing more than a high-school education to do well, yet all of the staff are either working on their university degrees, or have already finished one if not two degrees. These people are better educated that the average CEO or government official in Zambia, meanwhile they’re working the til and sticking labels onto blocks of cheese. (if not better educated, equally educated) Maybe they have figured it out, and a simple job is a beautiful job, but for those with ambition who aren’t quite sure where to direct their attention – I have to suggest the “frontier” countries where anything is possible, and where your skills are much needed. Before long, I expect to have the experience needed to apply for those jobs that say ask for 5-10 years experience.