Accountability Lab is running a Virtual Incubator for accountability entrepreneurs – or ‘accountapreneurs’ – working on Covid-19 related issues in East Africa. Supported by the Ford Foundation, the Incubator provides a non-prescriptive, supportive environment for creative and enterprising young people who bring innovative ideas to inspire accountability in their communities. The Lab is hosting a series of skills building webinars as part of the Incubator project and the first one covered Vision and Mission with Executive Director of B Lab East Africa, Ngwing Kimani. Written by Sheena Adams
Being driven by personal values in a world overridden by the maximisation of capital made sense for the times. This was the first premise that Kimani presented. She said that stakeholder profitability – including for your employees, partners and value chains – rather than shareholder profitability, was key.
An expert in strategic planning, business development, social enterprise and purpose, Kimani runs B Lab East Africa, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes and certifies for-profit companies using their business as a force for good. She is also the founder of Laeteon Wealth Management Services, a firm that supports individuals and businesses in achieving financial and organisational goals.
She said that once social entrepreneurs and CSO leaders had worked out what problem they were trying to solve, they could then determine the values that would drive this mission.
‘Let your values drive your mission’
Kimani said organizational values needed to be defined authentically. “If you’re a person of integrity, you want that virtue embedded in your values and mission statement from the onset.”
Ask yourself what values you want to include in your operational principles as you live out your mission. Also, consider your intended outcomes in detail.
For example, if your outcome is that you want more women to be employed, have you thought about the possible backlash to that in the context of the culture in which you are working? Kimani said there was an example of a community in Kenya where the rates of violence against women increased on the back on them being provided with better economic opportunities. “Consider all possible outcomes of what your mission can bring so that if you find negative ones, from the outset you can think about how you mitigate against the problem or prevent it from happening,” Kimani advised.
Once your outcomes are clear, you will also be closer to creating a Theory of Change (ToC) for your organization. Kimani made the example of B Lab currently creating a worldwide ToC for the organization to cater to the fact that as the organization has grown, it’s outcomes and objectives have started changing from region to region. A ToC helps organizations map out long-term goals, looking at stakeholders, inputs, outputs and outcomes.
On this journey, it was important to be inclusive of your team as a CSO. Often, organizations failed to see staff at all levels, such as cleaners or drivers for example, as being representative of a vision or mission. Kimani said CSOs needed to make their mission statement a part of all staff members’ orientation. “Schedule a review of it in the calendar – once a year or every two years. Revisit it and also make sure that the words in your vision statement are carried through with the work that you do. It’s part of your branding, The more you use those words, the more they resonate. Have it up on the wall; it needs to be seen frequently,” she said.
Kimani added that your mission statement could also be used to inculcate a new organization tradition like starting each meeting with a reminder of your objectives. It’s useful to keep your mission as a central part of making big decisions and also to test if certain actions will have the desired impact you’re looking for.
‘Your strategy starts with your vision’
When it comes to building out a bigger strategy, Kimani said her experience had shown that breaking this job up helps. “As you’re building your organization, you’ll realize there will be short, medium and long-term wins,” she says. These will form the basis of your strategy as it unfolds. A useful starting point for a new organizational strategy is a tried and tested SWOT analysis, she added. Pay particular attention to Weakneses, and look at things like fundraising and impact. Do you need a professional grant writer’s time or monitoring and evaluation staff? Under Opportunities, she advised looking closely at potential collaborators.
“Ask yourself, ‘Am I starting something that someone else is already doing? Am I going to work in tandem with them or replicate what they’re doing?’”
She also urged social entrepreneurs to consider possible obstacles to community work like traditional authorities or government permits, for example.
After completing a SWOT analysis, identify all the gaps raised and build your strategy around those elements along a timeline, she said.
‘Think about tomorrow’
Kimani said there were also some elements that CSOs tended to neglect, as they were almost exclusively focused on impact. These things included a human resources policy to manage your future staff and deal with unitended consequences like low funding and job losses.
“These also include things like having the right governance structures, like boards. It’s a myth that you only need a board when you are huge. Boards act like your blindspots; directors see things ahead that maybe you don’t see and prevent you from landing in a number of pitfalls,” she said. Finally, it was critically important to keep your finances in check from day one, so that when you’re audited you have all the relevant records you need to raise money.
Another important piece of advice from Kimani was about measuring impact, particularly because successful CSOs raised funding on the basis of proof of impact. “Collect your data from day one – look at how many people you have impacted and what the end result is. Can you attribute those goals to your presence in their life?” she said.
In terms of parting shots, Kimani gave participants two red flags to bear in mind to help keep them focused on purpose-driven. The first thing to watch out for is staff discontent or grumbles. When you listen to your team, what do you hear? If you seemed misaligned with your team, it’s time to go back to the table. “You may want to discuss what you are there for and where have you taken a wrong turn.”
The other red flag is not knowing what’s going on in the community around you. “If your ear is not on the ground, you should take time out to figure out what’s going on in the ecosystem in which you’re working. There may be issues to engage on or that will affect your strategy,” Kimani advised.