Training small, community based social franchises is unique

After 4 intense days of training on how to set up each of our three social franchises; Petal, Roots and Right Light, today was all about the new partners Organisation for Community Action (OCA). All about preparing them for the exciting and unique challenges of training a micro-enterprise.

OCA are already experts in training. Their Step Up programme trains subsistence farmers on 132 topics over 6 years; on all things from keeping your home clean, to domestic violence and why you shouldn’t be afraid of the police. What’s even more impressive, and just shows the patience and commitment of OCA, is that each topic is taught through ‘participatory development’ i.e. the farmers set the pace, uncover the problems and find the solutions mostly by themselves.

Training a micro-enterprise is similar, but there are two key differences. With our model, you are training people to run a business as a team; whereas the norm is solo, and you are setting up a franchise with most of the rules and procedures already established. It is businesses to the core… and a new way of thinking of business.

On day 1 of training we delved into the business experience of each of the 15 OCA team members. Many had tried once or several times to start a personal business of their own with only a couple still continuing. The key element of failure they all recognised by day 5 of training (today) was that in Uganda (and many other cultures) small businesses and the owners are one and the same. Meaning, my businesses debt comes from my income, my expenses are paid by my business and the businesses depends on me being there to succeed. In WSV, all of our entrepreneurs are trained to and understand that they must consider their business as a separate entity. One that pays its expenses, its employees and sustains itself through the social and practical value created for community members. A social enterprise to the core.

Each social franchise needs a focused team, to train them. OCA dived themselves into three groups, one for each business and dove into the training, practicing by teaching each other.

The role play, was hilarious! Quite a few people in the team were downright stubborn, conservative and easily confused ‘entrepreneurs’. But, at the same time they were passionate, energetic and rewarded when things were well put.

Tomorrow is the last official day of training… a day of “Bringing it all together”.

Sanitation is more logistics than health and safety

Most of us take toilets for granted, and sewage systems are something we don’t even think about! Yet, 2.4 billion people around the world lack access to a hygienic toilet.
The most common solution is a pit latrine. A hole in the ground with a cover and, sometimes, a structure built around it. Pit latrines are extremely smelly and unhygienic, and play a huge part in contaminating water sources and soil. They simply aren’t sustainable. Many collapse or fill quickly, meaning new toilets have to be dug or old ones emptied.
This sanitation crisis is one of the main reasons for girls dropping out of school, the lack of privacy and discretion; particularly where there are no facilities at all. This is also why we spent 4 years in the Enactus Southampton SanEco project finding a business solution to this problem. And so Roots was born.
Roots entrepreneurs build EcoSan toilets in local schools, allowing them to separate, collect and convert human waste into highly effective, 100% natural, liquid and solid fertilisers. The sale of the fertilisers helps to fund the construction of more toilets as the business grows.

This implementation in Uganda marks the start of the Million, Million, Million plan where Roots businesses will provide 1 million school children with advanced sanitation.

Building a sanitation and fertiliser business

 

Making human waste fertiliser was a new skill for our new partners (International Refugee Trust (IRT) & Organisation for Community Acton (OCA). Though they were clear on one thing… the accessible market was enormous.

OCA are experts in the daily life and struggle of a subsistence farmer. With the 132 topics covered in their Step Up programme, they leave the farmers self-sufficient and resilient within 6 years. Their knowledge of both the land and needs of the farmers is second to none. Needless to say, OCA, the farmers and the schools were excited by the potential.

 

Many people mistakenly assume waste disposal businesses are businesses of construction or chemistry, prioritising the conversion process above all. That is the easy part. Waste disposal businesses are logistics businesses. The one question is always: “How can we get more waste to our site; faster, easier and cheaper?”

The team quickly came to realise this, and when they did you could see the cogs in their brains turning as they considered and discussed everything. Geography, physical exertion, distance, time, conversion locations, transport methods, number of entrepreneurs, agreements with schools, the list goes on.

 

The result, one Roots business with 4 entrepreneurs, 2 toilets in 2 schools (with schools paying half the construction costs), removing 30 tonnes of human waste every year, and providing clean, permanent facilities to over 500 students while supplying highly effective fertilisers to feed thousands.

Little known fact: 10% of the world’s population eats food grown from human waste fertilisers – W.H.O.

We stand before an eager, excited crowd

Imagine…A lamp producing horrible flickering light, which produces a dark acrid smoke. You cough, but you have to finish your work, knowing that a knock of the elbow could mean the end of your home… you never use the mosquito net the local government and charities gave you from fear it will catch fire. You lived with this for years and now have dermatitis, respiratory infections and the slightest thing irritates you.

6 years ago a group of Enactus students at the University of Southampton, UK, learned that over 1 billion people in the world without access to electricity used kerosene, paraffin and other fuels for light. Kerosene is jet fuel. A Jet fuel that even the airline industry is moving away from because it is too toxic, and that’s 30,000ft up let alone in your windowless home.

This is why Right Light was born.

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Fast forward 6 years, from failure to learning, Right Light evolved. A solar lamp rental businesses undercutting the price of kerosene and providing access to solar lighting for even those living in extreme poverty (under $1.25). The Right Light final evolution created 98 entrepreneurs, most with no prior business experience, with over 1500 lamps in circulation.

Now we are here in Uganda starting the Million, Million, Million Plan with Right Light, Petal and Roots. Where Right Light businesses will provide 1 million people with clean lighting in the next 5 years.

The first day of training – Right Light

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We are in Uganda training International Refugee Trust and Organisation for Community Action on our three social enterprise models. 7 days of intense training where we will design each business.

The team were so excited for the training, it filled us with humility. They are the real experts on their community, we are here to support their work and leave sustainable, independent businesses behind.

The training went amazingly well. It worried us slightly when nobody would break from one of the activities to eat lunch. Come on guys, its 36 degrees, we have 5 hours of training left today… eat!

The day was very good fun and the result was two Right Light businesses each with 35 initial lamps with added mobile phone charging capability. This means over 460 people with access to clean lighting and over 400 people with improved and cheaper connectivity.

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Tomorrow, we design the Petal business. Which means, we make sanitary towels. It will be incredibly fun, particularly for the men… trust me.

Arrival over the great Lake Victoria

13 months preparing and 6 years of pilots within Enactus. It is time WSV stepped foot on the ground, taking the first step towards the Million, Million, Million plan.

In the north, in Lira, we will be training the International Refugee trust (IRT) and Organisation for Community Action (OCA) to set up Petal, Roots and Right Light social enterprises.

Going south, we will be training the Parish of St. James and the Parish of Bittern Park of the Church of England, and their partner parishes in Naminage and Bupadhengo to establish Petal enterprises.

20kg of training materials, 30kg of kit and 10kg of clothes between two of us and a 20-hour journey flying over 13 countries, ended with us gracefully gliding over the green covered islands of Lake Victoria. We arrived in Uganda, a beautiful country with happy smiling people, you would never guess that poverty was such an issue.

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A fewthings we learnt during our first two days in Uganda and journey from Kampala to Lira:

The drought has not dried up spirits

Being from the wet city of London, UK. It’s hard for us to imagine, let alone understand, the destruction and terror of a drought. But right now, Lira, 36 degrees, is facing a serious drought. Animals, wild and farmed, are dying. The weather patterns have been unpredictable in recent years, with people struggling to adapt. In spite of this, as we made our 6-hour journey from Kampala, the people were smiling, laughing and carrying on strong; a resilient people. All around us for miles, fields were being burnt as communities prepared the land for the life giving and overdue rains. We are told that when the rain starts, life currently dormant rushes into green and bloom.

The Chinese have made camp

As we passed town after town and all the Chinese built roads in between, the streets were crowded by bustling markets, intense with competition. Chinese everything was being sold; Chinese lorries, Chinese phones, Chinese hydropower plants, Chinese rice fields. Only cheap things on sale though, even the good Chinese products are still out the reach of the people. Even so, the Chinese have well and truly made their camp in Uganda.

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School of entrepreneurs

Government schools in Uganda often have over 100 students in a class. Teachers are over worked, poorly paid and many are absent. Our driver, Hassan, the motor loving encyclopaedia of Uganda, drives several times a week to Lira and provides tours to all manner of clientele. He works 3 times as hard as he needs to so he can send his children to a private school and give them every advantage in life.

But when pressured, people fight back… fight hard and triumph. As we neared Lira we saw fields and fields of papyrus. Teachers from schools use the papyrus to make all manner of products to sell to parents. Each shilling helps to better educate one more child and pay one more teacher closer to what they deserve.

The 6 kings and many tribes

I have a few Ugandan friends, and done a fair amount of preparation before coming here. In all my conversations and google searches, I did not once hear that Uganda has 6 kings each owning all the land in their territory. Only the north has no king and is ruled by tribes, one of which is the Luo people. The Luo originated in South Sudan and became refugees as they fled conflict to settle in northern Uganda (around Lira)… and in Kisumu Kenya, where the WSV journey began.

This introduction blog marks the start of WSV’s drive to the Million, Million, Million plan and we would not have chosen a more beautiful place to start. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @WSocialVentures for updates.

Can partnerships make the impossible, possible?

So what is a partnership? I’m sure we all know. By definition a partnership is when two or more parties collaborate or join together for mutual benefit. Partnerships in business are much the same as any other partnership. They provide valuable support, help build a network and allow parties work together to achieve or maintain a common beneficial aim.

At Wessex Social Ventures (WSV) we understand the importance of building strong relationships and have used this to surround our business model. We build relationships with NGOs, corporates and individuals in communities enabling us to travel further and implement otherwise near impossible radical interventions.

“We have found our partnerships have spread knowledge and expertise, and have helped build a strong network of communities”

Building strong relationships can take years; especially in our case, as our business model relies on building rooted relationships within communities. Our model targets communities living on less than $3 per day; a notoriously difficult bracket in which to implement ‘trade’ solutions. Knowledge of local culture is even more paramount to success which is why we have created the WSV Social Franchise Model. We package our micro-enterprise models into a business in a box, supplying NGOs with the training, tools, and support they need to replicate the models proven impact. This allows us to tap into a pre-existing network of NGOs and communities forming an enabling ecosystem.

“Business is a complex, fragile network of interconnected relationships and systems. People rely on these relationships to influence large groups of people.”

The previous Millennium Development Goals sanitation target underperformed by a staggering 700 million people; a significant loss for the UN and the rest of the world. Was this an impossible target to reach? How do you make the impossible, possible? This miss inspired us to take action and with help from our partners we were able to implement change and access communities immediately. The Roots enterprise was established to provide clean, safe toilet facilities to communities suffering from diseases such as cholera. The toilets serve a creative function, converting human waste into 100% natural fertilizer. Thefertilizer is then sold to local farmers at a fraction of the price of alternatives and the revenue used to construct more toilets. Roots is an example of the kind of sanitation initiative needed in the developing world.

This is a prime example of where an ecosystem of organisations is needed. These enterprises take time to build and due to low income levels, they are also unable to fund the employment of our team in the UK. Our social franchise model resolves this, as NGOs purchase the model and support from WSV, allowing Roots to scale efficiently. The local ownership of the micro-enterprises drastically reduces the cost of the products for the communities because the wage the entrepreneurs require and the business costs reflect the economic state of the community. Thus making the enterprise affordable, accessible and sustainable

With help from our partners we were able to launch The Million, Million, Million Plan:

  • 1 million women and girls with a sustainable supply of affordable sanitary towels
  • 1 million school children with safe, clean toilets
  • 1 million people studying and working under clean, affordable lighting

The power of connection is invaluable and our partners have already assisted hugely in the development of WSV. With further growth and cross sector partnerships, our Million, Million, Million plan is more than possible.

Enactus Southampton and the University of Southampton have hugely supported WSV. Partnering with Enactus has resulted in the creation of life changing business models, helped WSV make contacts and provided us with valuable resources and innovative student minds; all helping propel WSV in the right direction.

We owe gratitude to World Merit who have been mentoring us throughout our journey. They made it possible for us to attend the very successful Nexus Youth Summit in New York and are an inspiration to taking the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Our Journey with them also takes us to Merit360 and the full UN General Assembly.

Everybody travels further with a loyal partner, and WSV have definitely seen this in the past few years. We believe that collaboration has the power to make the impossible, possible.

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Right Light’s Big Step Into The Future

 

It is safe to say Right Light has achieved incredible success since its inception back in 2010. It was born out of the selflessness of individuals, with the sole purpose of doing good and helping to make the world a better place.

Sustainability has always been at the very core of Right Light and in all our operations, along with our social entrepreneurship values. We have created a business that is not only sustainable, but has had huge social impact in East Africa.

To this day we have created a network of over 200 entrepreneurs renting out over 1000 solar lamps every single day. This has greatly reduced the amount of kerosene used in the areas we work in, eliminating the serious threat it poses to everyone’s health.

Keldon

Given the size of our operations, we are starting to face challenges that are not necessarily beyond our capacities as students, but certainly require full-time dedication. This dedication will see the project scale up to become a fully-fledged business operating as its own entity.

I am therefore very happy to say that the project is being handed over to Wessex Social Ventures (WSV) – a social impact accelerator that specializes in building ideas and projects into sustainable social businesses. WSV brings together expertise from various social organisations, corporates and their experienced advisory team. This collaboration forms a network committed to using individual skills to accelerate businesses that create significant social benefit.

I would thus like to take this opportunity as the last Project Leader of this fantastic project, to thank all previous team leaders and team members for their hard work and incredible dedication that has gotten the project to where it is today! Nothing would have been possible without any of you, and don’t take this statement lightly! I would like you all to join me in wishing WSV good luck with Right Light, and keep a close eye on this project, as I am certain it will grow to achieve great things!

Andreas Ostrovsky
Right Light Project Leader
Enactus Southampton

A community solution to sanitation

With the launch of the SDGs, a far more ambitious and complete set of goals than the MDGs, we must think beyond designing bespoke solutions to address a single issue.

The world is a complex network of causes and effects, where any ‘cause’ can create multiple ‘effects’ across multiple systems. Society is constructed in this causal way. This is why the SDGs greatly impact one another, therefore in order to solve the SDGs in the most effective way, we need to implement solutions which tackle one SDG by solving another.

The problem of inadequate sanitation plagues 2.4 billion people around the world. It is an issue where a solution that can scale and be sustainable in communities living on less than $3 a day, has been elusive. Or so people have thought. In actual fact the solution has existed for years in one form or another, and it took a group of enterprising students from Enactus Southampton to piece the puzzle together.

The solution is simple, solve the need of an individual and thus incentivise them to solve the needs of their community.

After piloting this solution for 3 years, myself and my co-founder have forgone the traditional employment routes to set up Wessex Social Ventures (WSV) a vehicle to scale this and other social solutions.

How our solution works

A large proportion of communities facing this challenge are rural communities, where developing infrastructure is incredibly difficult and costly, thus the poor sanitation leads to the contamination of nearby water sources, agricultural land and livestock. However these communities being rural means they have an increased dependence on subsistence lifestyles. Our solution uses the local farming industry and the challenges it faces to create a sustainable solution.

Roots micro-enterprises build bespoke EcoSan toilets which replace pit latrines in accessibility, cleanliness and longevity. The toilets allow the collection and conversion of human waste into 100% natural fertilizer. The fertiliser is distributed to local farmers and can be used for everything from small crops to fish farming.

The entrepreneurs work together in cooperatives allowing them to specialise, they are then provided with a micro-finance loan to start the business. Working with local labourers they construct our multi-cubicle design in schools, providing permanent and hygienic facilities, which are proven to enhance learning environments. This is especially pertinent for young girls. One of the primary reasons for girls dropping out of school is a lack of privacy and discretion, particularly when there are no toilet facilities at all.

Additionally, many governments are imposing higher standards on schools. Many schools without the funding or support required to meet the standards are put at risk of being shut down, something we have seen in both Kenya and Zambia. The EcoSan toilets offer a sustainable solution that prevents school closure and delivers permanent sanitation at a fraction of the cost to governments and schools who fund pit latrine construction.

The solution is simple, build a hygienic toilet that allows waste to be collected and thus prevent environmental contamination, however it is the business that sustains and grows the impact. The revenue from selling fertiliser lifts the entrepreneurs above the local living wage. This means the entrepreneurs are dedicated to the delivery of the solution and provides a tangible incentive for maintaining and improving the hygiene and quality of the toilets.

The sale of the fertiliser not only provides an incentive, but also the capital required to maintain the toilets and to invest into the construction of new toilets to grow the entrepreneurs business whilst simultaneously improving the communities sanitation.

This solution has been piloted and continuously adapted for the past 3 years in 3 Kenyan communities. During which the fertiliser was as low as 20% the cost of artificial or animal alternatives and resulted in a 3x increase in crop yield on land previously using artificial fertilisers, which were expensive and too often fake. The entrepreneurs themselves were able to afford their children’s school fees and supply textbooks. To add context many schools have a textbook to student ratio of 1:5 or higher.

Replicating the success

After these incredible results the next challenge was how to replicate this micro-enterprise solution in more communities. For this we kept the same reasoning that birthed the solution. What need can we solve that will result in the replication of the solution and that can sustain a workforce?

We also identified the most important aspect of replicating these solutions was the relationship and understanding with the local community, something which takes years to build.

With these two issues in mind the answer became clear, social franchising to NGOs who already have the established relationships with communities and knowledge of local culture.

Raising donations is becoming increasingly difficult, sustainability of operations and solutions is a real industry need. Moreover, many NGOs employ hand-outs as a form of aid, this is not only expensive but unsustainable and creates the adverse effect of forming dependency cultures in communities, who become accustomed to the free products/services. To solve this need, we provide NGOs with training, ongoing support and a complete set of packs which detail everything required to set up these enterprises.  This change from hand outs to micro-enterprise creation significantly increases the impact of an investment, particularly as it is returned to the NGO through micro finance loan repayments.

“At WSV we aim to revolutionise the way we provide aid, through communities addressing their own local problems through sustainable businesses supported by a global network.”

For more information on the pilot project view the video presentation here.

Bradley Heslop FRSA
Director
Wessex Social Ventures