“I’m sorry, but I really think you’re idea won’t fly.”
That’s what I told 3 ladies who asked me to review their grant proposal. Before they submitted it to anyone.
RULIDE wants $300,000 to address extreme poverty in the Arumeru District. As per their proposal,
“Rural Economic Empowerment and Development project is proposed to capacitate them. Rural Economic Empowerment project (REED) intends to support rural peasants living under poverty by providing gender sensitive business development services, sensitization on environmental conservation and health care so as to liberate them from extreme poverty.”
They obviously put a lot of thought and work into developing their proposal. They heard about my arrival in TZ and figured that I might provide them advice, perhaps a little guidance.
I had not yet finished the Christian Enablers Business Plan, and found myself stuck on how to demonstrate the multi-level stages of expense drivers. These expense drivers, and their demonstration, stood at the base of whatever hope I had in costing it out. All the verbiage meant nothing without the numbers, and their clarity of impact.
Perhaps my mood didn’t connote the most gracious adviser in the area. Perhaps the nap that I needed served as a pretty good excuse for bluntness. Whatever! Effectively, I told them that, if I were a foundation manager with money to distribute, I wouldn’t buy their project.
Then I really got on my high horse. I told them that I didn’t come here to champion charity. In fact, just the opposite. I encouraged only transactional relationships. No beggars. No foundations or sugar daddies. I explained to them the two types of charitable organizations.
Type A charities depended upon their existence for charitable donations. In general, I don’t really like that kind of charity. Theirs is a tough way to make a living. Theirs exists as, professional in their asking for help, but always having to ask for more.
Type B charities provide one or more services that they sell, generally at market price. Consider the typical hospital or retirement village. They charge fees. They make profits sufficient to sustain themselves. Of course, they also often set up their own charitable foundations to accept donations used to provide assistance to those who would not afford their market priced services. But they make their existence much easier, simply by competing in the market place and offering services that people need, or at least for which they are willing to spend money.
“If I were you, I would rethink the purpose of my organization. More important, I think I would (and you should) rethink the strategy of depending upon charitable donations to pass along to other society dependents.”
Afterwards, I apologized to Lota. Or, I simply expressed my regret for having dealt with them so cruelly.
Now, to be honest, I didn’t really tell them their idea was rubbish. I simply left it at, “If I were a foundation director, I probably wouldn’t fund your project. I just happen to be all about self-sustainability.” It still left me feeling like an uncaring rich guy, just shooing off an inconvenient but well-meaning do-gooder.
They nodded, thanked me, and went on their way.
Yesterday, Lota told me, “They’re coming back. They want to talk to you again.”
I complained to Lota that this did not fall within the scope of my coming. I didn’t sign up for this. We needed to figure out a way to discourage drop-in clients who could only distract me from my true mission. My purpose would remain to help create entrepreneurs from character-strong, bright, and driven individuals.
Lota nodded in understanding. He already knew that a Denver client, immediately before my coming, put me behind the eight ball with his IRS emergency. He knew my first two weeks constituted a jamb-packed agenda of workshop preparation and the completion of the Christian Enablers business plan that should have been initially completed prior to my plane boarding.
“No, don’t cancel. I’ll see them, anyway.”
Praise, Ruth, and a different 3rd lady showed up this morning. They said, “What you said the other day?”
I thought, “Oh, oh! What did I say that they took seriously?”
“You said that we should rethink our strategy. You said that we should figure out a way to sustain ourselves.”
“So, we did.”
“OK?” Silently again, “Oh, oh!”
“We have a new idea.” They proceeded to tell me that they want to, in effect, create an entertainment business. We want to provide a place where kids can go when they are on school break. We want to provide a venue for the demonstration of artistic talent of various kinds. Like dancing, singing, painting, poetry writing, and the like. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the picture.
Actually, I’m getting a little intrigued, at this point. “Good idea,” I’m thinking.
“And, we will need to buy a facility in which to house this business.”
My heart sunk, again. “So you need capital, right?”
They shook their heads, happy that I seemed to understand.
I thought for a minute.
Then I told them what I told Nehemiah the other day, when we seemed to compete for time on my computer. I told them that they needed to do some “guerilla planning”, “guerilla marketing”, and “guerilla operating” for a while. I told them that I noticed a pattern among aspiring entrepreneurs, both in Arusha and in Colorado. That they tend to believe that the solution to a successful business launch lies with the acquisition of capital to finance the “infrastructure” that will propel them into immediate business operation.
I told them that I really liked their idea, but that they probably needed to rethink their start-up strategy.
First, they didn’t need to build a building. Alternatives included;
- Approaching the owners of abandoned buildings (there’s plenty of them in Arusha),
- Renting, if a building stood absolutely crucial to their plans,
- Leveraging school and church facilities, if possible.
I told them that I noticed a dormant soccer field next to the church in which I gave yesterday’s workshop on defining one’s crazy idea. “Perhaps you might think of doing something outside. Perhaps you could arrange for the owner of a soccer field or other outside park, the use of this kind of venue. They might be owned by a government, a church, a school. There also seems to be plenty of empty lots or building sites, for homes, businesses or whatever.
Then, I started to get on a role. I imagined out loud about all the kinds of artistic events that they could hold. The list seemed endless in my mind. Their smiles brightened. But, you need to think about your market and how to market. You need to figure out how to make money!
I just finished putting together my Power Point slides for this afternoon’s workshop at the church directed to just this subject.
“Let’s figure out your market,” I said. “What or who do you think is your market for this kind of thing?”
“Arusha kids, when they are on break from school. Their mothers will want to see them occupied doing something productive, instead of just hanging around.” They explained about all the school breaks that seem to occur with regularity. Sounded good.
“And, how will you attract them to your program? Advertising?”
Kind of a sucker pitch. Sorry.
Then I launched into another diatribe. “You need to better define your market. Then you need to drill down and identify specifically the decision makers within your market. Then you need to get an interview with the decision makers. Then you need to cement you relationship and continued communication strategy. You need to figure out how to market directly. Advertising constitutes an inefficient, indirect and costly way to get a business started. You need to scratch and claw your start-up like a guerilla entrepreneur would.”
“One more thing,” I said. “You need to figure out where the money is. That’s where your buyers will come from.”
We met for an hour and a half. We figured out that the market likely consisted of mothers within one or two kilometers from their venue. We figured out that they wouldn’t have much money, but might offer up a few TSH if they thought that their kids would be better off. We also figured that there were plenty of white skinned volunteers walking around. One would only look to the nearest school or charity (all over the place). We hypothesized that they might also enjoy the kind of venue and opportunity that we were talking about, especially if we continued to get creative with the program. Perhaps a night devoted to poetry reading. Another evening devoted to music and aspiring musicians. Another devoted to socializing with other volunteers from different parts of the globe. And although they maybe not rich, volunteers might have more discretionary money than local folk, and might be more inclined to seek a safe and productive respite from their day jobs of volunteering.
The ladies left, smiling, thinking that our discussion might have resulted in a good idea or two. Actually, I walked back to my room smiling. I left thinking that they might have landed a good idea, also.
I don’t feel so badly now about popping their balloon of just asking for a lot of money to address a vital need, but to also support an effort whose hoped-for results appeared questionable, at best. I honestly do think that I might have helped someone along the way, in spite of a forlorn attitude.
Now, maybe all they need is a good business plan!