The Social Founder Network connects founders of charities and social enterprises from around the world. In July we launched the Network in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Participants in the Sirasa TV studio debate launching the national V-Force volunteer campaign
and the Social Founder Network in Sri Lanka
The Good Market hosted Sri Lanka's launch of the Social Founder Network
There's been great interest in the Social Founder Network across Sri Lanka, reinforcing that we are creating a network with common themes and issues across borders and continents. See below for 6 common themes shared with our UK social founders.
30 founders of charities and social enterprises attended the launch event at the Good Market in Colombo. NewsFirst channel filmed the event and the founders' stories, with over 10 of the founders speaking about their founder journeys, joys and challenges. The Good Market provided delicious food and drink - specially the Narang and Mint juice!
The Good Market is itself a catalyst for social founders across Sri Lanka
The Good Market is a fantastic social enterprise that brings together social entrepreneurs who are selling products, food, crafts, clothing, recycled plastics, plants and so much more. They host a packed Saturday market in the heart of Colombo, with stalls of all varieties, and a permanent shop and cafe surrounded by a lush green courtyard.
We couldn't have had a more delightful and appropriate venue for the Sri Lanka launch of the Social Founder Network.
Social Founders at the Colombo launch preparing for our broadcast debate.
The themes that came out of the debate were fascinating. Below are just 6 of them.
We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the Social Founder Facebook Group - do join the Group if you haven't already.
1. Best to have a co-founder?
Co-founders of the Good Market, Achala Samaradivakara and Amanda Kiessel, talked about the benefits of having co-founders, how the combination of 3 minds (yes, they have 3 co-founders) is a catalyst for great ideas, great solutions, mutual support.
They tend to split up their roles so each takes on their own areas for management and development, but come together to share challenges, brainstorm, check back against strategy, discuss opportunities and more. They each bring different expertise (finance, business development, tech, retail etc), and different connections too.
This was unusual though - most of the other social founders I met and am working with in Sri Lanka are individual founders...
Having co-founders seems unusual in the UK charity and social enterprise sectors too - unlike in the commercial start-up sector, where a co-founder is almost a must-have to attract funding.
This is something for our network of social founders to ponder more on, and perhaps an exciting opportunity to re-think those first key steps in founding a social impact organisation.
2. The need for constant learning and investment in technical, marketing and business skills
Katana Upcycle and Social Founder Jayantha Kumarasiri
Social Founder Network member Jayantha Kumarasiri runs a fantastic social enterprise Katana Upcycle that recycles plastic and clothing waste into beautiful and practical products, that he sells directly to customers including at the Good Market, where he has a stall every Saturday. He is hungry for more technical skills, and advice and investment to scale up the technical plant.
There is pressure from social founders on the government to support social enterprise in more than just a token way - with technical support and funds.
At the Good Market Shop counter
3. To found a new charity or not?
This is such a controversial issue in the UK, where the debate about too many charities continues to rage, in the media, with funders, across the social sector and wider public.
It's an issue in Sri Lanka too. The 2014 Tsunami generated a rush of new charities across the country, grassroots, national and international as people from all backgrounds and experience desperately tried to rebuild communities, families, livelihoods and the country after the horrific natural disaster.
One of our Social Founder Network members, Sanjeeva de Mel, recently set up a new charity, SERVE, in the suburbs of Colombo, supporting disadvantaged communities less visible to the more conventional charity sector.
Sanjeeva felt so strongly about the need to justify setting up a new charity that he wrote a passionate and articulate "Message from the Founder" on the charity's website, explaining why he founded the organisation.
4. Corporate social founders...
Non-profit social founders at the Colombo launch were pleased to meet social founders from the corporate sector, including Fouzul Hameed, Managing Director of Hameedia, the high profile Sri Lanka men's fashion brand.
There was widespread acknowledgement at the launch that the corporate and social sectors do not usually mix, and that one outcome of the Colombo Social Founder Network launch had been to inspire many more connections between social founders from all sectors - corporate, charity, social enterprise, media and government. Cross-sector collaboration is key.
5. Visibility for social founders, campaigners and social enterprise
The Sri Lankan social founder I have been so impressed by is powerful and charismatic Rosanna Flamer-Caldera. In the face of state and cultural opposition she founded and runs Equal Ground, with the biggest ever Colombo Pride this summer.
As part of Colombo Pride 2018 Rosanna organised a Media Conference to raise the profile of Equal Ground's work, of LGBTQI issues across Sri Lanka, and to engage, inform and connect with journalists.
We all face the same challenges: how to raise profile, campaign, distribute and sell our services and products, and communicate our impact. And how to communicate our personal role as a social founder too.
Some of the new Sri Lanka Social Founder Network are involved in a groundbreaking Dragon's Den style television series, Ath Pavura, where Social Founders pitch for funding on national television, in front of a panel of impact investors.
Surely we can make this happen in the UK too!
And we were thrilled that Neela Marikkar, founder and Chairman of the communications agency Dentsu Grant, joined the launch event, and talked passionately about the importance of strong brands and communications for social founders, as well as the pro bono support that her company provides to charities and social enterprises.
There was widespread interest in setting up an equivalent organisation to the UK Media Trust, the charity I founded back in 1994, to bring together charities with the media, digital and creative industries. Watch this space!
6. The heady debate about when to step down and how to delegate as a social founder...
We had fascinating insights and much debate about this issue. Social Founder Eranda Ginige who founded Social Enterprise Lanka, and is one of the founders involved in Ath Pavura, the TV series, told us how he decided after 2 years, to appoint a CEO, Mario De Alwis, who runs the operation, leaving Eranda, as Chairman, to develop new business and strategic leads.
Mario also joined us at the launch and they talked brilliantly about how their shared passion and clear vision enabled them to work easily together as they scale up not only their own organisation but the many social enterprises they in turn support.
Visaka Dharmadasa, the charismatic Nobel Peace Prize winning founder of the Association of War-Affected Women, sadly was out of the country for the launch, but at an earlier interview had told me about her powerful impact on helping end the 20 year long civil war in Sri lanka, and her ongoing work, as well as her plans to step back after many years of leading the charity. We'll be sharing Visaka's story soon.
This is just a brief look into 6 of the issues our Sri Lankan social founders raised at the Colombo launch last month.
Meanwhile big thanks Sri Lanka, and we look forward to following your social founder stories.