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No longer on an island: CoPs and eLearning foster co-learning for social enterprises

Zoe Laurel Barth-Werb's picture

Alina is launching a venture to train and match new graduates with startups in Mexico. Marcia is piloting cost-effective and ecological housing solutions in Mozambique. Ahmed is working to sell oven shelving units to rural women in Egypt so they can increase their income.
All these social entrepreneurs are thousands of miles apart from each other, in different countries, in different regions, in different sectors and different time-zones. Despite these differences however, they often face similar challenges and  obstacles in scaling their business operations. Many find interim solutions to some of these challenges, while others simply cannot overcome them and, despite their potential, are unable to become viable. If these social entrepreneurs have the opportunity to share their experiences with one another, the solutions social entrepreneurs develop can work across boundaries, countries, and even sectors.

When the World Bank’s Social Enterprise Innovations team launched their  eLearning course, “Innovative Business Models for Better Impact,” the aim was to help social entrepreneurs use proven tools and frameworks to help refine or scale up their efforts and impact. Through the facilitated four week, free online training, participants gain knowledge and skills around business plans, adaptive leadership and results-based management.
But an unforeseen benefit of the course quickly became evident. Through the course, participants benefited from another major outcome—strong, supportive connections built among fellow social entrepreneurs, through the e-learning platform, which hosted forums, webinars and group discussions. . Throughout the course, this platform  became a place to build relationships in the social entrepreneurial world, where interaction is often limited or nonexistent due to geographical, cultural, time and sectoral boundaries.
One of the original eLearning participants, Gayatri Jayal, provides frontline workers in India with the mobile technology they need to be more effective and create more of an impact. Through the course, Gayatri connected to a social entrepreneur who faced similar issues. “My facilitator introduced me to another participant who had been looking at similar solutions, and there is a good chance she will use our technology in her own work,” Jayal explained. “It was a wonderful connection to make—it’s great to meet someone my age in a similar sector because I don’t meet many people outside my organization.”
“Courses like these help isolated entrepreneurs in some of the most difficult markets in the world feel connected and supported. This is critical and cannot be underestimated, and was clearly one of the most important outcomes of the course to participants,” said Alan Webb, one of the facilitators of the course.
But what happens when the course finishes? And despite its impact, our course only impacts the participants of the cohort that are accepted into the course.  What about the thousands of other social entrepreneurs that are still isolated, who do not know the social enterprise community, the sector that exists to help them find solutions to increase their impact?

As an attempt to continue these connections, Social Enterprise Innovations created a Community of Practice (CoP) for social entrepreneurs who participate in the courses as well as to past grantees of the Development Marketplace award. On it, members can share resources, learning opportunities and other external opportunities for financing and further learning. But moreover, social entrepreneurs can talk to each other and share experiences, challenges and solutions. They can offer advice and improve their business models, find new financing opportunities, and continue to increase the impact many of these social enterprises have.
The social enterprise sector is on the rise within the development community and the Social Enterprise Innovations program works with a number of stakeholders to create a dialogue and improve the ecosystem in which they work. Until we are able to work across all geographies and sectors to improve the social enterprise ecosystem, CoPs like ours provide a platform for social enterprises to improve despite the many barriers that exist.

Gayatri Jayal's Interview @Sankalp