OneAccessSpace: a social enterprise in development

OneAccessSpace: A Digital Resource for People Affected by Cancer is a new kind of community-based support network. Its founder, Kim Adlard, is seeking financial help at a crucial stage that might be called  “enterprise formation.”  Please contribute and let your networks know about it too. Some good reasons for supporting Kim and OneAccessSpace are set out below. No doubt you will have your own.

To donate and learn more about OneAccessSpace: http://www.csicatalyst.org/projects/50-oneaccessspace-a-digital-resource-for-people-affected-by-cancer (NB requires registration with the crowdfunding app Catalyst CSI, a fairly simple process, please take the time.)

OneAccessSpace is not just a worthy cause, it’s a great example of the very particular and difficult financial  challenges to starting a social enterprise, discussed in this post.

How many ways are there to start a social enterprise?

If you want to get something up and running right away, it might be as simple as telling people what you are doing and getting them involved, either working with you, or joining in/signing up, or hiring you for your service or buying your product.

But many social enterprises are ambitious, requiring organization and technology. Yet they often start out as little more than an inspired idea; an observation that something is profoundly missing and an idea of how to fill that gap. But, as we all know only too well, the worthiness of an idea does not guarantee it will find support. Finding support is difficult.

Case study: OneAccessSpace

A case in point is a new venture called OneAccessSpace. OAS will support people affected by cancer. It proposes to do so by pooling the resources (knowledge, experience and talents) of those same people. It’s about empowerment, creating a network and leveraging it. Like my favourite prototypical social enterprise, the Tool Library, OAS is about uncovering/accessing unused or underutilized resources and enabling people to put them to use.

Like the Tool Library, OneAccessSpace is challenged when it comes to revenue models. The people it aims to empower are not in a position to pay user fees, or if they must (as they do in the case of the Tool Library) they have to be modest to be affordable, too modest to alone support the operation.

Yet, the Tool Library is surviving. In fact, it’s thriving. It’s just too good an idea to fail.

Millions of tools lying idle in hundreds of thousands of basements and garages is just too obviously wasteful and a library an equally obvious way to put them into “circulation.” So people continue to donate tools and the founders of each tool library continue to wrangle money out of wherever to keep their operation afloat while the media builds up their story, their user group/memberships grow and those who can help figure out how. In time, patient persistence will pay off in stable revenue streams, some combination of multi-year government funding, corporate sponsors, private donors and user fees.

OneAccessSpace is  somewhat different. It is not just a great social enterprise idea but addresses a pressing social and health issue. Tool libraries aren’t indispensable but OneAccessSpace could be. People affected by cancer are often in critical situations, requiring supports of all kinds, not only medical.

Kim writes:

“When you look at the full impact of cancer, loss of practical supports, loss of employment, financial security impacted, it becomes pretty scary. And often people are too unwell to do much to about “fixing” things and land in the realm of living under the poverty line.

This happened to me, this happens all of the time. But this crisis is rarely talked about and slow at getting addressed.

Thankfully, waves are starting  happen with studies being released and the beginning of some media attention
http://www.cancer.ca/en/get-involved/take-action/what-we-are-doing/financial-hardship-of-cancer-in-canada-mb/?region=mb

http://www.thestar.com/life/cancerresource/2014/07/02/cancer_diagnosis_can_lead_to_financial_crisis_for_some.html

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/household-finances/a-serious-illness-like-cancer-can-also-damage-a-familys-finances/article14680566/

Unfortunately, with the increase of cancer diagnosis rate, I don’t see this getting better.

People are going to need help. They need help now. And I want to help…and can!

My project focuses on linking people to needed practical supports, which most often are free.

OneAccessSpace is driven by cancer survivors and those who support us. It is my hope that OAS will get to a place where we can pay people for working on the project as we grow our community. There will be many opportunities for this and a plethora of passion and skills to cultivate within the cancer survivor community. Working with OAS, and often this will mean within a modified capacity because of recovering from illness, will enable people affected by cancer who have lost employment and financial stability cobble together some income amidst all the loss and chaos.

The model lends itself to true social purpose enterprise….lifting vulnerable people up.”

Connecting person to cause

Kim reveals compelling underlying reasons that we can all relate to more personally, failures or gaps in support networks that make things worse just when the going gets toughest. No one these days has not been touched by cancer. I relate personally because a friend of mine died of cancer this year. She had managed to keep it at bay, despite all odds, for eight years through a revolving carousel of treatments. Finally the options were exhausted and her body couldn’t cope with the last treatment. For most of the eight years, she was able to work and needed to because the financial support she had was meager. But as she grew more frail, she wasn’t able to work, so on top of the stress of illness, she had to worry about paying the rent and putting food on the table for herself and her 16-year old son.

I’m sure my friend Marta would have loved OneAccessSpace and, as an accomplished documentary script writer, researcher and editor, would have been a keen and valued contributor. OneAccessSpace would have helped her through her participation to find support as support became both more critical and elusive.

OneAccessSpace is a cause worth supporting. It’s too early to know how it will all work but Kim has the skills and experience to figure it out and the patient persistence any social enterprise requires. Building something that introduces new ways of doing things isn’t easy, especially in areas like health where we would rather assume “the system” is the best it can be and will look after everything. It requires continuous effort, enormous emotional investment but also practical, financial support, just like the very people OneAccessSpace is striving to support.

Here’s the donate info again:

http://www.csicatalyst.org/projects/50-oneaccessspace-a-digital-resource-for-people-affected-by-cancer (NB requires registration with Catalyst, CSI, a fairly simple process, please take the time.)

More about OneAccessSpace:

About

OneAccessSpace is an online initiative that fostering empowerment by facilitating knowledge, supports and communities amongst people affected by cancer.
Mission

OneAccessSpace is a first-stop online resource that helps people affected by cancer connect to the support they need while helping us realize our own capacity.

Description

By culling information on services and resources across all cancer communities, OneAccessSpace serves as a first access point to springboard further action.

The components that make up OneAccessSpace are:
• A searchable database of supports and resources across all cancer communities
• A community sharing space which includes articles written by cancer survivors, our support people and wellness professionals showcasing healing-based strategies and experiences.
• An engagement listing which includes special events, educational, volunteer and advocacy opportunities
• OneAccessSpace can be used as a model in other communities with people affected by cancer managing their own local operations

The spirit of OneAccessSpace is proactive community engagement guided by compassion and care.

 

Start where you are (with what you’ve got).

Plans are important frameworks for overall direction and strategy – but, as the saying goes, no plan survives first contact with the customer…

So we are really talking about culture here: that people within an organisation feel the ability to spot, develop and pursue opportunities (in line with the mission), to take and be comfortable with risk (and reward), to be creative and problem-solve, to be flexible and responsive in their approach. – Nick Temple, Social Enterprise UK

Some of us are prone to making big plans and then not knowing where to begin while others plod along without knowing exactly why or where they’re headed. Neither approach serves us very well. But “starting where you are” is actually very challenging.

Part of the reason it’s so challenging, I think, is that there often isn’t much to work with at the beginning when a social enterprise is not much more than a powerful feeling that something needs doing that either isn’t being done or isn’t being done well enough.

But somtimes, we have more to work with than we realize. For example, I had a very nice experience this past week when a colleague visited my new enterprise work site. As I explained my hopes for the project, I found myself focusing on the complications, obstacles in the way of getting to the bigger vision. After I finally exhauted myself, he just smiled and said, Look around you, you are not just occupying this space but “activating” it already. You’re doing just fine. Keep going.

I had to admit then that a lot has been happening. There’s movement every day. It may be tiny increments and not always be tangible but things like conversations that spark insight into your purpose or a new take on how you’re doing things, or meeting new people who may turn into essential supporters, allies or partners down the road are a vital part of any business’s development.

Resources are generally thin at the beginning of any project. To build them up, you need more than good ideas and good will. You need to look at what you’ve got like fuel. Good experience  directly relevant to your project establishes your qualifications. Do something with it. Anything, no matter how small. This will demonstrate not only what you want to do but also that you’re committed.

My friend showed me that it’s important to get your feet wet. If people see that you’ve waded in and haven’t found it either too cold or too hot, it doesn’t matter so much what you say or if you say it well or poorly. You don’t have to convince anybody. Your actions speak for themselves. And they’re likely to respond with what you need whether that’s for them to jump in with you, throw you a line or lend you a boat.

 

 

What is social entrepreneurship?

social enterprise word map
In the term “social enterprise,” what is the right balance between the “social” (mission) and “enterprise” (profit)?

A lot of people are saying that the key to sustainability in the non-profit sector is entrepreneurship. Centres for social innovation (CSIs) are popping up like mushrooms and “social enterprise” is all the buzz among granting agencies and foundations.

Closer examination reveals a lot of fuzziness around the term “social entreprise;” it means very different things to different people.

For some, entrepreneurship is a generic term associated with energy, innovation and commitment. It’s about drive and the ability to build organizations or even whole movements. Without doubt one has to be a go-getter to champion important causes, often swimming against the current, and have fantastic networking and organizational skills to make real progress. The Ashoka Foundation favours such an  all-encompassing approach, defining Susan B. Anthony as an entrepreneur for her tireless work establishing the equal rights of women.

For others however, entrepreneurship sticks closer to its business roots; it’s about applying business principles and methods to the social, non-profit, field. Charging admission, running a gift shop, perhaps creating your own products, are traditionally part of the non-profit mix of self-generated revenue, and the entrepreneurship here lies also in managing these functions in terms of cost and return, applying business measures and keeping them profitable, etc.

Yet another interpretation, sees social enterprises as businesses that have a distinctively social purpose. Examples on the Ashoka Foundation website include the Montessori school system and the first school for nurses set up by Mary Montessori and Florence Nightingale respectively. It is not necessary that they are profitable or profit-driven; they can be otherwise supported (by the state, individual or corporate patrons, etc.).

Yet for others, entrepreneurship is a precise business term. It means starting and running a business, an enterprise. The word “social” in “social entrepreneurship” means that the business is run by, within or under the umbrella of a social, non-profit, organization and revenues support the social mission of that organization. “Some have advocated restricting the term to founders of organizations that primarily rely on earned income – meaning income earned directly from paying consumers.” (ref: Wikipedia “social entrepreneurship”)

I favour the latter definition. To my way of thinking, the broader interpretations of “social entrepreneurship” confuse things. They seem to be intended more to make the non-profit sector sound better, more exciting, or more like the business community to which it must increasingly turn for support as state funding diminishes and the more traditional forms of patronage become obsolete.

Good things always  come from introducing new language, new ways of talking about what we do. The introduction of terminology like return on investment (ROI), profit and loss, measures and milestones brings clarity to non-profit management, while also making it easier to show potential partners, sponsors and supporters what it is that an organization does.

I hope to follow up this post with some good examples of some different kinds of social enterprises. In particular I will be looking for examples of real businesses operated by non-profits in order to generate income to supporting their social purpose.