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Sunday, 15 April 2012 22:19

My Arms Wide Open® Community Business Model

Written by  Warren Te Brugge
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Working from a philosophy where there is zero dependency on the initiating NGO

My Arms Wide Open® is a Canadian Federally registered foundation that was established to work with mothers, children and youth to create change in rural communities by stimulating and creating economic activity around autonomous, sustainable community based businesses, food security, infrastructure, education systems and mentoring and leadership focused entirely on the needs of their communities. The first community based business established, was Karoo Furniture Manufacturers in Cradock, Eastern Cape, the next is Bergnek Community Projects in Bergnek, Limpopo, which will be a brick-making business.

Starting the Process - My Arms Wide Open® Community Business Model

IMG 3396DonateNowButtonWe start within each community by facilitating our Iziko Labahlali® (Hearth of the Community) program that focuses on mindset, helping the participants to see themselves as deserving, contributing members of their communities. Through the course of the program we identify needs and skills within the community and then work to develop opportunities to establish economic activity around those needs to build autonomous community based enterprises, transferring in the gaps in the skills required. We make the initial seed-loan start-up investment and set up a management board comprising of members of the community and commit to a full 5 years of working alongside the employee members of the community as they earn out the shares of the company. In rural South Africa, as we set up these endeavours we currently do not use a co-op model for this because of the high incidence of co-op failures generally. We use what is called a closed corporation which the government recently moved into a private company structure. Each community has the potential to be different based on the local circumstance and regulations, depending on what country or region they are located in.

What makes it different?

IMG 5414Where we perhaps differ from others is possibly in how we begin the process in environments with extreme circumstances(unemployment, poverty, health, violence, abuse), as we noted above. We first assist and engage around mindset to help and enable the community members to accept and acknowledge themselves and their circumstance without looking outside to place 'blame'; to be able to see their reality and work from there, for some for the first time in their lives. We do not dismiss the fact that they have in fact been 'put upon', taken advantage of, abused and ignored by past and current regimes, we simply want to create awareness of: where they are starting from (so that they can create a plan to live forward for themselves); the fact that they are valuable and can make a contribution; and as a result of this awareness, understanding and acceptance, how they in fact are able to take the steps to create real change for themselves without relying on or waiting for someone else to do it for them, including us. We are simply the enabler and a supporter, they are the change agents. They design their own future, by asking questions we help to identify opportunities for them to choose from and decide how they will take advantage of those or not and where they fit into their own plan of their future.

Who is setting the direction?

The actions which take place within the community are driven by the community itself including the decisions and choices they choose to make. Our goal is not steer them but to mentor them and transfer skills as needed. What we bring into focus within the community itself are the actual needs that exist within the community and then build economic activity around these needs to create traction, supporting them start to growing and ultimately thrive. To protect ownership for the community, the My Arms Wide Open foundation charter was written and established where it does not own the businesses, it can invest through the seed-loan and the adapted loan forgiveness structure and offer assistance and support. The considerations that we applied when this was done were focused on achieving the 'create no dependencies', 'ask only questions' and 'do nothing for, only with' mandates we imposed on ourselves.

The Commitment

KFM 3We commit to be involved on the management board as advisers and to transfer in skills as required. Through the charter of the community-based company the participating members agree through formal agreements (where appropriate) to a number of items and make a personal and collective commitment to these, which are:

  • Each person participating in the venture must have attended and completed our Iziko Labahlali program;
  • Each person must be permanently resident in the community;
  • Create a focus on the understanding and critical thinking by agreeing to ask 'why' things are done not just 'how' they are done - we believe each person will learn how anyway, which is simply learning a process or route. What we want them to see is the bigger picture of why each action or component is important;
  • Through the 'why' they learn every aspect of the business and create transparency in reporting and accounting - creates an open system where each person understands what is happening and how they each contribute to the success of the business, where they fit in and creates a real sense of value and worth.
  • Each person agrees to remain fully active within the business for a full five years for their share grants to vest - we evaluate personal growth (skills), team support and community support and development annually making share grants that accumulate to each person as determined by their own commitment and participation so that by the end of the 5-years they  collectively own the entire business and a portion of the businesses they have helped to create and support by mentoring and supporting others to do the same(see below);
  • They each agree as a team to invest 25% of the bottom line from their business each year into new community based business that is started by new Iziko Labahlali graduates in either their own community or another community we are working in - by doing this we grant a seed-loan forgiveness amount each year until the value is depleted at which point they can continue to make investments if they choose - we encourage this of course;
  • Mentor and support those new businesses - they have a vested interest;
  • Each person agrees to act and conduct themselves in the best interests of their fellow 'owners', the business, their families and community;
  • Look for opportunities to make each business sustainable within the community environment.

What does the My Business My Community Structure achieve?

Cause RelationshipsWhat we achieve is we create a web of autonomous businesses within the community that are all connected through a common and vested interest in each others success. It is our goal to develop 1,000 of these communities throughout Africa to create a web of connected and vested communities.

The design of the business structure itself serves to re-form what has become a linear existence and society for most back into a society the flows as a circle engaging all levels, restoring a balance that includes the environment and every part of the demographic of the community back into the whole. We want to see these communities live and thrive, not merely exist. We support the creation and sustainability of the whole through each of the My Arms Wide Open causes:

Are we done yet?

Do we have all the answers or have it perfect? No, far from it, we are in our infancy. However, we believe it is a start and we are learning and adjusting continuously as we engage with communities and collaborate with other organizations. It is our belief that it will take a feminine energy to restore balance and a holding of hands and collaboration from all quarters to create the change we need in our world. We are here to make our contribution.

How do we generate revenue to fund initiatives?

All revenue and income from the community businesses are for the benefit of the communities and the new businesses they choose to support. We generate revenues through our consulting work and services at Manzimvula®, which itself is a B Corp and donate a percentage of its top line revenues to My Arms Wide Open. In addition to that, we fund the community initiatives through grants, public donations and gifts in kind. We are confident that by abiding by our guiding principles and working alongside the community members they will achieve the goals and vision they have of their futures.

Your Comments: Let us know what you think. For more information or if you would like to find out more about or support our My Business, My Community Programs and the Iziko Labahlali ProgramTM, please contact us using the information below or visit the donate page to make a contribution.

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For more information please contact us at: email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Support members of the rural communities in South Africa to participate in the Iziko Labahlali programs and BE a Part of the Change! DonateNowButton-sm

Read 6945 times Last modified on Tuesday, 17 April 2012 05:37

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