Better than Charity: Win-Win Model to Fight Poverty
Charities are not flavour of the month just now. Whether it is chugging, misuse of data, overpaid executives, lack of impact... the list goes on, charities are having a hard time of it at the moment. With more and more UK Aid being channeled through impact funds rather than directly through charities it is maybe time to ask whether the charity model of fighting poverty is holed below the waterline.
Rather than wringing our hands, Grow Movement, has been turning to business model innovation to fund our next stage of growth. The logic is simple. We deliver growth to our African micro-entrepreneur clients. Typically each of our successful projects delivers 29% growth in profits and nearly half of our clients create new posts averaging more than 2 jobs per project. Surely that must be worth something to somebody other than just our our clients - who do not pay for our services. My first thought was financial organisations - surely accelerated growth, reduced risk of default, better knowledge of finance and marketing or even just access to a skilled coach / mentor would make an entrepreneur more invest-able. Well yes, but would they be willing to support our work even in kind if not in cash. Well not so far. As an entrepreneur educator, I know when I have a winning proposition on my hands and this one is simply not getting traction, so time to “pivot".
But as is the nature of innovation, salvation comes from an unlikely quarter. Our philosophy at Grow Movement has always been one of win-win, we have more success with volunteers who act out of enlightened self -interest rather than altruism. Indeed we encourage it; It is more sustainable and actually a much better proposition. So when we had to more than double our volunteer base to scale up to deliver the 600 projects needed for a Randomised Control Trial led by the London Business School, we surprised ourselves by over-achieving our target. Separately we interviewed some of our volunteers to find out what they got from the experience and the most common words were "inspiring" and "empowering" rather than the warm feeling one might expect from helping those "poor Africans" we hear so much about in charity Christmas marketing campaigns. I feel I should point out that our volunteers have a far more profound respect for their clients than pity, which could never form the basis of the trusting relationship required to deliver sustainable growth through behaviour change. And that was when the penny dropped.
Companies are crying out for talent development programs that actually develop talent. Too many leadership programs are classroom based and experiential learning from role plays comes nowhere near the powerful experiences our volunteers gain through helping clients to grow their businesses in Uganda or Malawi. And influencing via digital channels like email and Skype (which adds just another barrier to communication and establishing a relationship) was another very marketable skill prized by companies keen to keep a lid on travel costs. Surely I could sell this experience as talent development to corporate partners. Package it with some initial training, coaching supervision and a certificate and for a comparable price to leadership development, companies get some seriously good development opportunities for their rising stars and some nice stories for the CSR section of the annual report / web site thrown in for good measure. This looks like a far more winning proposition that funds 2-3 projects per sponsored participant.
Well, it is early days yet, but the feedback has been positive so it is time to take it to market. Check it out here. I would love to know what you think.
Importantly, it helps us move away from holding out the begging bowl or writing endless grant applications. But more importantly it engages business in an opportunity to contribute more out of enlightened self interest than altruism just like our volunteers. More like a triple win, for our clients and their economy, for our volunteers and for the companies they work for. Surely that is better than just ticking the CSR box!