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20

May

2011

Portland State University Study

Dr. Jeanne Enders of Portland State University’s School of Business reports on her experience studying the work of Community Friends for an international case study competition.

In the late summer and fall of 2010, a group of us from the School of Business at Portland State University began writing a case based upon the activities of Community Friends from the time of the tsunami until 2010.

In late October, we entered this case into an international competition, The oikos Case Writing Competition (http://www.oikos-international.org/academic/cwc/) in the social entrepreneurship track. While we didn’t win the competition, we learned a great deal about the plight of women in Sri Lanka, the beauty of multi-national partnerships, the power of women’s collectives, philosophies of project ownership, the tea industry, carbon offsets and most importantly, we learned in detail about Community Friends.

Our team: Toby Roberts, undergraduate honors student, marketing major; Caroline Lewis, Masters of Business Administration graduate student; Dr. Jeanne Enders; and Alia Long, Masters of International Management graduate student.

Some of the key issues that surfaced in our case include the following:

1.) Project Identification and Ownership – the school lunch program emerged when teachers identified the problem. Ownership of the program shifted over time from a Community Friends/parent & teacher partnership to a government/parent & teacher partnership. Is this a generalizable model or is it sometimes best for outsiders to define and hang onto a project? Under what conditions is one method preferred over another and why?

2.) Microfinance vs. Microequity Models for the Collectives – why was microfinance rejected as an option for Community Friends at a specific juncture? Community Friends had the financing in place but decided to develop a microequity program instead. What does this mean and what are advantages and disadvantages of each model?

3.) Sustainability of Programs in Volatile Times and Places – Community Friends faced huge challenges by trying to operate in Ulla, a war-torn and difficult-to-reach region hit especially hard by the tsunami. Why do many social business initiatives avoid such places and what were some of the costs and benefits – tangible and intangible – to targeting such a region? What ultimately happened to the projects there? How are disaster relief organizations different from social entrepreneurship programs?

4.) Unintended Consequences or Surprises – The most surprising development in the Community Friends story, in our opinion, is the realization that upon purchasing a tea estate, Community Friends was suddenly made responsible for a group of people who for generations lived and worked on the estate and who depend completely upon the success of the estate. Are there other potential unintended consequences or likely surprises? How should one respond to such developments?

5.) Long-Term Environmental Protection vs. Short-Term Economic Pressure – The pressure of needing to support the village on the tea estate makes it challenging to transition the estate from a traditional farming method to an organic method of agriculture, or a more diverse agriculture. Transaction or transition costs take on more than just a “business meaning” when you are responsible for a group of vulnerable workers.

6.) Financial Models for Revenue Generation in Long-Term Social Enterprise – What profit-formula or revenue generation scheme is best-suited to Community Friends? Carbon offsets offer their own set of challenges but fit the values of Community Friends. How do we create an entrepreneurial spirit in the tea estate workers AND the college students recruited to sell offsets? Does the Community Friends staff need to be “motivation experts”? Also, are there other revenue generation models at this stage in Community Friends’ development that are being overlooked?

Conclusion:

We are so very grateful for the opportunity to work on this project. In addition to the written portion of the case, this project included creating a video (http://vimeo.com/16295333). The potential of the women’s collective and the tea estate as tools for social and economic improvement offer such hope for the role business can play in changing the world. We hope, at the very least, to use this case in classrooms to surface conversations about social business.

Thanks!

Jeanne Enders, PhD