Thursday, 1 November 2007

‘Mission Drift’ in the Sustainability journey


A major question emerged in a very dynamic, online discussion facilitated by UgaBYTES with over 600 telecentre activists, mostly representing Africa.

'mission drift - mean the risk of de-prioritizing or abandoning their social mission to focus on income-generating activities'. - Loic Comolli, NESsT

Telecentres have the major mission to serve the communities, the Economic sustainability push them for another mission – that is to generate profits. There is a challenge that how to protect the primary mission (Social objective) while they engage into the secondary mission (economic objective).

There are diverse opinions about the mission drift. Some believe it is acceptable within the context of sustainability success.

‘I don't worry about mission drift if the organization is improving what they are doing and getting more profitable and more sustainable and the community is getting more service’ – Peter Burgess

‘I don't find mission drift as a serious problem (as far as it highlights the value of community /stakeholder participation’ – Grace Mirandilla (Philippines)

Yet, there is a common concern to avoid mission drift. Why?

‘In the Philippines: a telecentre was so successful at selling mobile airtime that it abandoned all other (community) activities and focused on mobile’ – Loic Comolli

‘In this context, the Philippine example found that a part of its business was very much in demand, and ran with it. The question then is what happened to these profits from the cellphone activity. If it is sent out of the country to Switzerland for safe keeping ... not so good. If it is used to help local orphan children or do education, well and good. – Peter Burgess

Well, such thinking leads to another question. Will channelling the profits into other purposes drift the progress of economic initiative..?

According to NESsT – Social Enterprise Capacity Building organization; there are two ways to prevent mission drift. The first one is to run social enterprises that are 'close' to the mission of the telecentre. If the products / services sold are closely aligned with the mission, then the risks of mission drift are low. However, sometimes this may not possible, as profitable products of such nature are not always easy to find.

A second way to prevent mission drift is proper ‘Preplanning’. Before starting asocial enterprise, it is important to know What are the objectives? Develop financial and social goals for social enterprise. Set revenue targets. Social goals should be the mission-related targets one seek to achieve through social enterprise. – Loic Comolli
The proper mechanisms need to be put in place to avoid mission drift. –Loic Comolli, Grace Mirrandilla

Cases in Point:

Drishtee of India and Sarvodaya of Sri Lanka >

At Sarvodaya - management happily allowed 'Mission Drift'. How? promoted telecentre operators to generate income. They did. But, instead of ploughing that revenue into a systematic network operation, it allowed to invest into their own (locally driven) social missions. (Result - after 3 years, network started to drift into economic failure).

At Drishtee – systematic protection from the 'Mission Drift'. The systems were in place to secure the 'Mission' - at every segment of the eco-system, both ways - Economic and Social. Result is very encouraging. Drishtee started with 3 telecentres and over 7 years, now expanded into over 1650 (all are decentralized locally owned operations). Every telecentre reach their break even in 6 months, and they serve the needs of local communities. Drishtee (network operator) - announced reaching their breakeven point after 5 years into operation.

1 comment:

Grace Mirandilla said...

Mission drift, per se, should not be equated to the telecenter losing its value in the community. As long as the key stakeholders (such as the telecenter manager, steering committee and/or local government) are involved in the decisionmaking, the telecenter should be allowed to evolve as a social enterprise.

Based on case studies of Philippine telecenters, a key to sustainability is social preparation (needs assessment, social marketing, etc). However, it is also important that the telecenter uses a business model that is flexible to changes in consumer demand and market dynamics. Technology should be seen as a resource that can help support a community's development programs. If it turns out that the telecenter's most commonly used service is VoIP calls (for example, the Philippines has a huge number of migrant workers abroad) rather than as a source of agricultural information (as originally conceptualized), the telecenter project should not be labeled a failure. Instead, the "mission drift" should be seen as an opportunity (and a challenge) for the telecenter to revise its business model and identify services that attract paying customers and address development objectives at the same time. Because at the end of the day, a telecenter would only lose its value if the community does not see any reason (of value to it) to use it.