I must admit… just last week, I cringed at the thought that GSBS might be one of those let’s-all-hold-hands-and-sing-“we-are-the-world” type of events with not much substance. Yeah, all those encounters with insincere CSRs throughout my social work life has made me quite the cynic. While I’m not one who fancies swanky corporate style events, I’m glad the GSBS turned out to be a platform for social activists to learn about GREAT people-centric social initiatives around the world with practical tools on how to design, evaluate, sustain and scale.
The focus group sessions to me were the most interactive, useful and thought-provoking. I wish they were longer! The first focus group session I went to was about identifying needs; not just community needs but the needs of all stakeholders and managing them. The second was about scaling (spreading) your social initiative. We were given a “scaling test” to check if we’re ready to scale and embarrassingly, the answer for us was NO. I appreciate the honesty, transparency and genuine desire to share resources, tools and lessons to help each other out. Because of time constraints (just 2 hours per day!), the speakers couldn’t go in-depth but I think the essentials were conveyed and it’s up to us to read up and go back to the drawing board.
Aside from the focus group sessions, I love how we were exposed to many different social business IDEAS around the world but wish the exhibitions were more about that rather than just mere mentions in speeches. After all, ideas that worked should be replicated and adapted, no?
What’s next for us?
We’ve got an appointment with Sports4Sharing at their office in Mexico City next week to discuss about possible collaborations and knowledge-sharing as we both share similar values, vision and approaches to education in our work. The founder of Sports4Sharing, Dina Buchbinder, was one of the speakers in our focus group. Sports4Sharing is an NGO (not social business) that uses PLAY as a medium to educate children about their civic rights and to brush up children’s soft skills. Our work in Chow Kit Kita has similar objectives but the medium we use is ARTS with elements of PLAY. We think we’ve got lots to share and learn from each other. They’re so inspirational and impressive as they’ve managed to get the support of the government to exponentially expand their work. They’re also self-sustained and have branches in 4 countries!
We’ll be heading to Chiapas, south of Mexico after this and we hope to visit some of the co-ops to learn how they’re organised and how they overcome challenges like governance and maintaining core co-op values.
And once we’re back in Malaysia, we’ve got a lot of THINKING and homework to do! The main takeaway from GSBS for me is the confirmation that designing and running a social business is not at all an easy task. But starting small with the right tools makes it bearable and manageable, and failing (with infinite patience) is an important part of the learning process.
Experimenting in social business was quite a sudden move for us. We’ve got to thank myHarapan for that. If it wasn’t for the competition, we probably would have been stuck in our tiny NGO bubble without realising the existence of other models out there that are not only effectively solving problems but self-sustaining without compromising their principles and vision. Social businesses are definitely revolutionary, and although Prof Yunus might not agree, making this model popular is a clever and subtle way of subverting free-market capitalism.