At this stage, you’ve got the resources you need and they are working together to find clients and successfully deliver the value proposition. In short – you’re making and selling stuff. As a place-based conservation enterprise, you have certain opportunities and limitations vis-à-vis a regular social enterprise. In this post, I will run through what I suggest you do first (systematisation) and the look at the options you have for the future of your enterprise.
In the previous stage you’ve had to respond quickly to challenges you face in creating and delivering the product to customers. Doing something new required daily problem solving by your team and focused leadership to get to the end point. Now your team knows what to do and the enterprise has momentum or rhythm in its operations. It is time to take a breath to put into place the processes and systems that allow the team to train others to do the various roles, maintain quality, increase efficiency and reduce risk.
Whether it’s documenting processes, getting formal contracts in place, or introducing a new IT system to manage sales, putting in place systems to manage the process are key to increasing efficiency and reducing the time it takes to deliver your value. You might still not be at the point where you have the scale or efficiency to turn a profit, and this is naturally going to be your major focus (do I have enough money in the bank to pay my staff and creditors? – sound familiar?). At the same time, it’s natural to think about what comes next for your enterprise. Let’s look at the options.
Option One – Growth
Growth is the default option for most start-ups. As you have access to more capital, you can scale the business, adding additional staff and production capacity to service more clients – if there is demand that you can’t already fill. For example, Blue Ventures, a dynamic marine conservation enterprise has expanded from its base in Madagascar to Mozambique and Southeast Asia.
As a place-based conservation enterprise, however, you are likely to face limits to growth, whether it’s available land, the productive capacity of the forest, the skills of the community or the size of the local market. More broadly, you or your community might want to reject the growth mindset prevalent in society and explore other ways to increase your impact.
Option Two – Deepening
Deepening is about increasing the impact that your enterprise is having by creating additional incentives for changing behaviour. It might mean training local people into management positions, releasing more cash to fund community activities, or substituting non-local with local materials in the production process, but in any case, deepening is about improving the business model to increase local impact. One Acre Fund in East Africa is deepening its impact through increasing training of local leaders.
Option Three – Layering
Layering is about using your business infrastructure, whether it’s staff, systems or contacts, to add in additional product lines. Whereas the factors listed under growth may limit increased production of the same product, layering draws on under-utilised resources or market opportunities to grow the business through diversification. Diversification also increases organisational resilience as it becomes less dependent on a single market Thinking more broadly about how you can create value from the unique assets of your place allows you to see new opportunities your enterprise is perfectly situated to provide. A good example is Zo paper in Vietnam offering workshops and community visits in addition to its NTFP paper products.
Option Four – Replication
Replication is recreating a similar business model in other places, either through your business setting up shop, or sharing what you know with others. In a time where everyone guards their ideas very closely, replication seems counter-intuitive, yet sharing is an important aspect of a more sustainable society. Hepburn Wind in Australia has been very active in sharing its community business model with other people, setting up a separate enterprise to do so.
So that’s it – the five stages of conservation enterprise development. I’ve attempted to summarise my knowledge and experience from seven years of work and study in this area. After this I will be writing up the other case studies I am working on (in addition to the herbal baths case study here) and I look forward to posting more this year about what I think is the most exciting new concept in sustainability at the moment – the Regeneration Economy.