For many years one of the biggest challenges we keep hearing from our partners is the lack of needed funding to reach sustainability. They work so hard and accomplish so much – but the low funding is always nipping at their heels, keeping them one step away from crisis. Throughout the last few years, we’ve intentionally begun building in conversations with leaders about funding models and the opportunity of social enterprise.
Already, many leaders have launched different projects to help fund their ministry – but they asked for more training on how to do this well. So, we researched and discovered a wonderful curriculum written by Africans, for Africans, about the essentials of running a successful small business. We officially launched the curriculum this spring with eager and positive feedback.
The truth is, most leaders we’ve met in Tanzania are already entrepreneurs – they’ve launched multiple ministries from scratch and their family probably runs two or three different enterprises for income. But as ministry leaders, no one had ever taught them business, so they were learning on their own – and they were tired of sometimes learning the hard way. They were hungry for more.
To launch the training, Loom invited a handful of selected leaders to “test drive” this new curriculum. However, we quickly realized that every leader we talked to was hungry to be a part of it. Everywhere we went, social innovators were eager to share their business ideas with us. The typical story about Africa and aid just does not apply.
Gemma, a leader in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, makes and sells high-quality porridge flour. She first began making it as a way to increase nutrition for HIV/AIDS members in her community. We asked her what she has learned in the two years of doing this business. She talked about profit, the small margins she has now, and how she would like to expand the business and get registered so that she can supply shops and make more money. But the fee to register her business is exorbitantly higher than the profit she makes each month.
Geoff is another social innovator bringing small business directly to the most vulnerable. Their goat and pig business is providing income for a children’s education sponsorship fund, but he recognized that to bring true sustainability, he would need to set these families up in small businesses themselves. Most of the children in their program are from single parent households, and the opportunity of their own small business would also allow single mothers to spend more time with their children. Already, they have set up each of these three families with a goat to launch their own enterprise. However, if this initiative is to be successful, accessible business training needs to be available for them.
In the end, we offered the training to twenty-five social innovators and hope to offer it to many more. “I’ve been so inspired,” said one leader. “It seems like this is possible for anyone, if they have the training.”
Another social innovator who grew up helping with his family business, and has run several of his own since, came up to us after the training. “I’ve learned things I’ve never known before,” he exclaimed.
Here at Loom, we are committed to seeing social enterprise and small business succeed in these communities, because we want to see the most vulnerable empowered with choice in every area of their lives. We want to see parents be able to provide for their families; children have the opportunity of education; young women have the choice of work with dignity; pregnant women and their children have adequate nutrition and medical care; the elderly cared for; and space for all the creativity and culture that is part of a sustainable, thriving community. As Colleen Milstein, Executive Director of Loom said, “This is what will define us. Because if you can’t feed the kids, to talk of well-being doesn’t fit with reality.”
This is the vision – and this is the work to which these social innovators have given their lives, every single day. Our mission is to accelerate their effectiveness and champion them for who they are: people of power and wonder, whose tenacious fight on behalf of the most vulnerable is weaving together a community fabric of change. Sustainability is key to this fight, and social enterprise and small business is one of the many strategic ways we will get there, together.