The term ‘social enterprise’ may have been coined recently (relatively), in the Western world, to try to capture and define somewhat new organizational models that do not fit the conventional ‘private sector, public sector and NGO’ categories. These are supposed to be organizations that do not belong to the public sector (which can be easily verified) but also not quite fitting for either the private business or the NGO definition. They are generally perceived to be operating with NGO values and goals, but using business rigor and tools. They are perceived to be operating based on a triple bottom line: economic, social and environmental, as opposed to private businesses that have one bottom line (economic) and NGOs that – I guess – only have the other two (social and environmental). In a very broad way, the term social enterprise is supposed to refer to organizations that intentionally add socioeconomic and/or environmental value to the lives of their target clients while at the same time maintain a sustainable net financial flow.
There are many shapes and sizes in which social enterprises come, and their deserving of the category varies from one institution to another. Measures of verifying a social enterprise could be their mission and operational model, or how their revenue is reinvested in their missions (i.e. increase of impact instead of increase of shareholders’ profits), or their services or products are diffused into their target communities.
Here in Africa
Either way you look at it, given the different socioeconomic and business-legal circumstances in many African countries – such as Tanzania – one will have to consider a different way of recognizing and acknowledging social enterprises here than doing the same in the Northern hemisphere. I say this because essentially, the triple bottom line for any organization operating in Tanzanian conditions will obviously be quite different from the same triple bottom line for any organization operating in, say, Canadian conditions.
With that in mind, I believe that I have been recently privileged to have met a bona fide local African social enterprise, led by a Tanzanian social entrepreneur.
First, there was the social entrepreneur:
Currently, the social enterprise literature has a tendency to focus on the stories of social entrepreneurs as trailblazers, innovators and risk takers, each with a unique vision and drive. The current literature overwhelmingly celebrates such individuals from the Northern hemisphere, with few examples from the Southern hemisphere. That is why it has been refreshing for me to meet Mr. Livinus Manyanga, a Tanzanian social entrepreneur with a different story and an impressive track record.
Manyanga is an engineer-cum-social entrepreneur, with decades of experience in vocational training, technologies and market value chain development in Tanzania and East Africa, and with genuine interest in helping Tanzanian entrepreneurs achieve their goals in businesses that serve Tanzania’s sustainable development. Way before the term ‘social enterprise’ reached this part of the world, Manyanga embarked on co-founding KAKUTE, an organization that could very well be the oldest Tanzanian social enterprise.
Then, came the social enterprise:
KAKUTE is a veteran Tanzanian social enterprise with 20 years of experience and a record of successful projects with nationwide impacts. The name comprises of the first two letters from each word in ‘Kampuni ya Kusambaza Teknolojia” (Kiswahili for ‘company for technology diffusion’). KAKUTE facilitates the development and application of innovative approaches to diversify and improve technology transfer and information to rural communities and small scale entrepreneurs who seek to introduce new products or to employ new systems for sustainable development.
There are many things that KAKUTE has done since its inception. While the main mission is diffusing good technologies in targeted communities to improve various aspects of livelihood and push for sustainable development, KAKUTE does that in multiple ways. Those include:
- The introduction of new products/services through revenue-generating schemes (on access to water, food security, renewable energy, and good land use).
- Providing Business development services (BDS) for small and micro enterprises (SMEs) and community based organizations (CBOs).
- The incubation of innovative technology-business solutions.
- Partnering with other local and international organizations to deliver technology solutions to carefully selected beneficiaries.
Examples of Projects
KAKUTE looks small, in terms of employees’ number and size of office. That visible measure hides the qualitative number of nationwide (and region wide) achievements and awards of recognition it has cumulated since inception in 1995. This short article will not attempt to list all of those, but will give some current examples:
- KAKUTE recently successfully incubated a company – for 2 years – which delivers small solar PV power systems for average Tanzanian households (especially in rural and off-grid areas) on a rent-to-own scheme. Clients pay for the solar power service on monthly basis as installments, and after payment of the system’s full price they become owners. KAKUTE used its established network and its social/technical experience of promoting new innovations to built a good customer base and brand awareness. This is not the first project KAKUTE incubates with nationwide impacts. An older similar project with a nationwide impact involved the establishment of multi-businesses that are based on the agro-processing of jatropha plants in Tanzania (e.g. oil, seed, and soap products from jatropha).
- KAKUTE is leading other RE projects and initiatives in many ways. On the capacity building aspect KAKUTE provided extensive capacity building services – in preparing and delivering training programs – to Biogas Construction Enterprises through a currently ongoing national program that aims to create a viable commercial sector for biogas plants in Tanzania. It is also currently hosting the East Africa branch of ‘Embark Energy’ which trains and supports entrepreneurs in business building and management skills in the RE sector.
- The Renewable Energy School Program is one of KAKUTE’s ventures in the capacity building work. The idea behind it is to plant the seed of RE thinking from an earlier age (primary schools) which will solidify awareness and the drive of school children (and their families) to be engaged in RE adoption. Moreover we may start to see early interests in following RE career paths – something which we may not be able to see if young minds are not aware of RE from an early age (i.e. before college). Most entities that diffuse renewable energy in Tanzania do not address the education step. This program addresses this step through introducing renewable energy technologies and their context to the younger generations of primary school students. Through a custom-designed curriculum (already in place) students learn about the possibilities to integrate RE into their everyday lives. KAKUTE works with school teachers, development partners, and students’ families and communities to introduce students to deliver this program. The curriculum familiarizes students with main topics on the environment, climate change and RE through presentations, class discussions and project demonstrations (including field trips). This program is a long term project initiated and implemented by KAKUTE since 2009.
The more impressive part is…
With its wide influence but limited resources, KAKUTE managed to survive by doing what a bona fide social enterprise would do: reinvest their generated revenue in the continuous operations, programs and projects, and in securing staff salaries (i.e. rather than prioritizing shareholders’ returns). Sometimes KAKUTE gets funded for running some of its projects, but the impressive part is that it is able, in the difficult Tanzanian business conditions, to stand on its own feet in tough times and continue the work. KAKUTE survived many challenges throughout its years; challenges that I would argue made it stronger at the core. It is not that KAKUTE does not aspire to be bigger and more financially viable, but it is that it is more committed to a true triple bottom line vision. If I was an investor in sustainable development schemes in Tanzania or East Africa, I think I would consider a company like KAKUTE, because I can have verified records that KAKUTE’s capacity to do more is mainly hindered by limited resources/funds, not at all by limited commitment or fiscal responsibility.
For more information, see KAKUTE’s website: http://www.kakute.org/