I have seen this problem repeating many times in many parts of the world. And I have seen it again at Gampaha, a suburban village in Sri Lanka.
Economic sustainability needs the cultivation of entrepreneurial qualities. In simple terms - greed to make profits. For a Socially Driven community leader who thrive on altruistic motives - helping poor, offering volunteer spirit - this is an utterly bitter pill to swallow.
Mr. Wijewickrama (59yrs) who is a school teacher by profession, is the most respected leader in this village of 1400 families. His leadership lead the village from very humble footing in 1973 to one of the leading Sarvodaya (www.sarvodaya.org) affiliated villages by 2007.
Village Information Centre (VIC) is one of the many developments that he had facilitated. Villagers contributed their own savings to build up the Community Hall, which shelters the VIC, along with a village pre-school (serving 45 children) and a small library. By variety of community based fund raising activities, they could manage to buy 4 refurbished computers to scale up the VIC. Sarvodaya (Fusion) district staff agreed to provide the technical support for training.
Now they have all the required facilities, and over 25 students are seeking computer lessons, but they dont have a qualified technical assistant to provide training. Sarvodaya is keen to provide training. Yet they have an unresolved issue.
Issue is on the pricing for services..!
Village committee mainly influenced by the Mr. Wijewickrama’s leadership, is not ready to charge a fee more than 600Rs / month, (6US$). For Fusion, this is not feasible. The minimum feasible charge according to their calculation is 1600Rs/month.
It looks like - convincing the village leadership on the break even point analysis had become the biggest challenge for Sarvodaya - Fusion staff.
He listens when the Sarvodaya district staff explain the importance of keeping a sensible price.
‘At 600Rs. we cannot pay the utility bills, cannot replace the computers when they are old, cannot afford to pay the training assistant…..!..!’
Then he repeats the same question..!
‘This is a very poor village. Even paying 600Rs is not feasible for them. Their fathers and mothers contributed to put up this building and even to buy these computers. Now…why should they pay more to learn..?’
Social enterprising is not that simple..!