Shifting gears | Community initiative to viable business

TOMA-Now | Honeybush Harkerville

The community initiative

Entrepreneurship is seen as key to job creation and economic development. This thinking is extended to the community initiative – if you build it they will come and make something amazing with it! But how do we truly create a winning scenario that supports community development with an emphasis on social impact? Co-creation is key.

How easy is it really to transition from a fully funded community initiative, reliant on government grant funding to becoming a viable self-sustaining business? It takes a combination of stakeholders working together with a common purpose whose sole mission is empowering the entrepreneurs and help ensure they succeed. But it’s also key to realise this is a journey that needs to be undertaken together.

1. Differing agendas

This goes hand-in-hand with building trust with the community initiative key stakeholders. Quite often different stakeholders have differing targets that need to be achieved. These quite often can be at odds with one another. Coupled with this, a community initiative is not something that can be completed in a day. Stakeholders have to be prepared to be in it for a protracted time providing much needed early stage support. The sooner you get to building capacity, the more likelihood for success. A community leader can be an invaluable resource in moving things forward, while mediating conflict. With a relationship developed the right way, the community leader is an important conduit for connecting developers to the community. This is also a key role in identifying entrepreneurial talent.

2. Capacity building as a key enabler

It sounds like a no-brainer but innumerable times a stronger emphasis is placed on infrastructure development, rather than people development. Quite often there is strong local and indigenous knowledge but there is a real need to formalise aspects of this in order to transform a community initiative into a viable business. Capacity building should not be limited to technical training but be extended to life skills and at least basic business literacy. This is something key and can be the difference between  taking your car to your cousin who tinkers versus a professional auto mechanic. We wouldn’t consider this in our normal lives, why then something different for empowering communities?

3. Support systems for the community initiative

This is a big one. So you’ve built infrastructure and done a little bit of training but does it makes sense to just walk away. Entrepreneurship is not easy in general, now add in the complexities of developing a community initiative. Developing the right kind of support system to create a transitioning phase is key. It’s not all or nothing. A transitionary phasing out exit strategy is needed to leave communities surrounded by the right type of support. This can be technical mentors, business mentors and clients with clear letters of intent and role out plan. Another enabler is peer support systems. The newly viable business should have others to turn to – to share both challenges and success.

4. What’s in it for me

This is a tough one, particularly when it comes to social impact. The community must be ready and open. Be upfront on your agenda. The sooner transparency is created, trust can be built and role players know what each other expect. Without this transparency, there can be unnecessary misunderstandings that lead to significant delays and stakeholders working at cross purposes. This transparency also allows for solutions to be co-created where needs are identified and being met.

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