Bringing it all together

Day 6 & 7 of the training and it is all coming together! The Organisation for Community Action (OCA) team have absorbed the training like a sponge! Huge credit must go to the Step Up programme, for which there is so much complementary content.

On one side of the room we have the team practicing the entrepreneur selection interviews. On another side, people are making towels to show the Step Up communities tomorrow. And on yet another, the team are practicing the training for the entrepreneurs. The room is buzzing!

One of my favourite moments from the whole trip so far, was Ken, a senior consultant working with the OCA team, overlocking a towel. Concentration etched across his face trying to make the perfect towel by going all the way around in one go (no simple task!). All of sudden the normal quiet hum of conversation is disturbed by this massive whoop and dance, as Ken  smashes the task. The whole room, burst out cheering.

It is great to see how the OCA team are using the training they received throughout the past week and bringing it all together in these practice sessions. Taking it a step further, the OCA team are applying some of the training and thought processes to their Step-Up programme; always looking to improve. The exact mentality we look for in partners.

We are all eager to test and experience. So, not content on waiting for the Roots EcoSan toilets to be built, we instead decided to build a Roots urinal for the OCA team during the lunch break. The first thing the OCA team did (after trying it of course) was to start thinking how to make one for the girls…


Tomorrow, we travel into the field to excite the community with these businesses and start the entrepreneur selection process. And somehow, Bradley has got a bit lost and has ended up in Kenya…

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”.

M&E – Magic & Excitement

Monitoring and Evaluation is a subject of fundamental importance to development organisations, but one that people so often find boring. So how to make it Magical & Exciting?

Our training starts with a dive into bias, one of our favourite topics and probably the most important in M&E (for a delve into bias, check out our blog). We use an activity based on the current work of those being trained for them to look at the different biases at play, from both the assessor and interviewee. It was great to see the International Refugee Trust (IRT) and Organsiation for Community Action (OCA) team considering so many different factors, and to see the interest and realisation of the biases at play grow as they looked at their work from different angles.

Due to the stigma around Petal and Roots, some of the questions in the assessment can be very personal. As such, it is important for the assessor to understand what it is like to be asked difficult questions and build an empathy towards the interviewee. Working in pairs, the team had to ask each other the most personal questions they could think of and answer with 100% honesty. An exercise that starts with a lot of laughs but quickly becomes more serious as they realise how difficult it can be to be asked, and even to ask, really personal questions.

The area that most interested the team was our multi-layered M&E approach that measures the impact on multiple areas of the community; customers, the school, the wider community. And, that uses the entrepreneurs themselves to gather large amounts of information about the outputs, and even some outcomes, they are generating.

To finish the section, we allowed the team to see the behemoth spreadsheets that were the business financial models and the M&E review, which both automatically analyse the information put into them to hopefully say “Yes” this business will work; allowing the OCA team to see how the M&E affects everything else.

We ended an amazing day of laughs and high emotions, with selecting the entrepreneurs. It was captivating to see how OCA intends to integrate our social franchises into their Step Up programme, having the Step Up communities suggest potential entrepreneurs before interviews.

We are getting close to finishing the training! Next week starts with training the entrepreneurs. We are looking forward to pretending to be a very slow learning, hard of hearing, short attention span entrepreneur whilst the OCA team trains us!

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.

The begining of the end of menstrual stigma in Lira

We take having 4 weeks in a month for granted. But, imagine getting to 12 years old and all of a sudden there are only 3 weeks in a month.

In too many communities, menstruation is a taboo subject. There is little to no advice available for girls and no access to affordable sanitary pads; forcing many to use rags or leaves which can cause the contraction of menstrual diseases. The lack of understanding results in girls feeling like they have to stay at home, missing out on as much as 25% of their education or dropping out altogether.

From Enactus’ phenomenal SanEco sanitary towel project, Petal was born. Creating entrepreneurs who make and sell reusable sanitary towels and deliver menstrual health education to everyone in the community.

Using the learnings from 4 years of implementation, we are now in Uganda training 3 organisations how to set up Petal businesses in their communities. The start of the Million, Million, Million plan where Petal businesses with support 1 million women and girls.

So the Petal training begins

The start of the day was a bit of a mad rush, preparing the sewing machines and conducting the morning Introduction to Petal session.
We had a beautiful overlock machine just back from refurbishing… and it doesn’t work. After an hour of fighting with it I jump in a jeep and set off to see the expert, expecting for a quick 10min fix, tightening or fixing some nuts. An hour later and the machine is in parts on the table in front of us… but we get it all working!

I returning to the team in full flow, adapting the Petal business to the local culture. The excitement in the room is tangible, everyone is talking about each little improvement to the business and the impact that it will create.

The second half of the day ended with the menstrual health education. It was shocking to hear some of the stigmas and stories that affect the community: Women on their menstrual cycle not allowed to carry other people’s babies… Sitting in a hole in the ground to contain the blood… and girls at school being bullied when they start menstruating; “The cow has given birth” the boys say.

Despite this, we left feeling inspired by the amazing positivity in the reaction of the men in the team and the drive to not only educate the other men but to recruit men as entrepreneurs to work alongside the women.

The result: One Petal business with 5 mixed sex entrepreneurs who will provide over 2000 women and girls with sanitary towels in its first year.

Tomorrow, we design the final enterprise in Lira. Our Roots social franchise addressing sanitation and fertiliser access.

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.

A dive into the community.

What a sunrise! The sun rises over the savanna to great us for our first full day in Lira.

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The morning started with us meeting the OCA team. The team are like a family and show so much passion and excitement for the Step Up programme they run and for the beginning of the WSV training programme. A properly awesome group of people!

With introductions done, we are loaded into an old UN 4×4 and set off to the field:

The school toilets

Our first stop a secondary school highlighted by OCA for the one of the first Roots toilets. This school with 400 boarding students, only had 4 cubicles each for boys and girls! The toilets filled up so quickly that the school has to empty them once a term, costing 1,000,000 UGX each time (for context, the average community wage is 44,000 UGX per month).

It was amazing to see the excitement as they began to understand the impact of the Roots toilets. It would mean they would have permanent, more hygienic toilets that would no longer have to empty.

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The second school we visited, showed the massive lack of communication between government and schools when they do support the building of toilets. Each cubicle had a massive metal door on the front. This not only proved to be a waste of money but also posed a potential security risk for students, in particular young girls.
This school was even more excited and is taking the Roots toilet designs to their management team this week.

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The Step Up programme

Following our visit to the local schools, we had the opportunity to meet some of the people on this amazing Step Up programme.

Step Up takes a holistic approach to development; working with subsistence farmers to empower them to realise for themselves the issues with current behaviours and supporting them to tackle fundamental issues. From sanitation and gender issues to navigating the legal system and everything in between; in total this 6 year programme has 132 topics!

The sustainability and impact of this programme is something all charities should be learning from! Self-sufficience and resilience should always be the aim of development.
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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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