Dear GKD Members,
I would like to add to Meddie's comments with a couple of things that
have worked well for us in Guatemala. I would also like to describe a
dilemma I am going through on the issue of profitability in a NGO.
With the help of USAID/AED/EDC and World Learning, we have set up 28
school-based telecenters, all of which are sustainable (so far) and
almost all are putting social service over profits. The two principles
that we have applied are:
1. Select partner implementors that are really dedicated to serving the
community. In our case, most centers have been given to community-run
schools, but a couple of others have been small, local NGOs.
2. Let the partners cover all recurrent operating costs from the outset
and some of the start-up costs. This scares off many potential partners,
but has served as a good filter to ensure that the partner schools have
the economic base and administrative capacity to sustain the center.
When we find a partner that responds well to both of these principles,
the result is a telecenter that instinctively finds a happy balance
between keeping the center sustainable and providing needed community
These centers compete fairly with the small local entrepeneurs who set
up private Internet cafes. The schools have the advantage of a captive
user base while the entrepeneurs have lower overhead and better capacity
to respond to local demands in terms of services and scheduling. We
accept this competition as inevitable and healthy because it keeps
everyone on their toes. In the end, the consumer wins.
While I feel comfortable with the above-stated model at the local level,
I am struggling a bit with the ethics and reality of whether a mid-sized
local NGO should build its sustainability off end users. For example,
some people have suggested that our NGO could create a franchise scheme
where our partner centers could pay us a fee for which we would provide
ongoing technical and administrative support. It is certainly solid as a
business plan, although I wonder about our capacity to provide quality
services at a low enough cost. Regarding ethics, I would not feel
comfortable knowing that my salary is coming directly from the pockets
of the rural poor we are trying to help. Yet, if we are not able to
offer those services, the telecenters end up paying private companies
for that assistance. So, maybe I am wrong in my thinking and that this
scheme would really be a win-win. Our NGO is doing its best to be
transparent, so that any profits obtained should truly be channeled
back to our target population.
I would welcome testimony from anyone or any organization that has gone
through these types of growing pains.
Andrew E. Lieberman
Presidente (Nab'e Eqanel)
Asociacion Ajb'atz' Enlace Quiche
5a. Calle 3-42, Zona 5
Sta. Cruz del Quiche, Guatemala
Tel. y Fax: (502) 7755-4801, 7755-0810
Para recursos y noticias sobre educacion bilingue intercultural en
Guatemala, visite: www.ebiguatemala.org
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