Last week I wrote about the American Express Members Project and a project to develop sustainable weaving cooperatives that (full disclosure) my organization, Architecture for Humanity, is involved in. This project, spearheaded by Lulan Artisans, is part of a growing new model of philanthropic initiatives within international development - the small scale hybrid.
I think most of us can agree that the traditional top down system of aid has been pretty much beaten into submission over the last few years. With few exceptions many large organizations and governmental agencies have become aid oil tankers unwilling to be towed by newer and more nimble small scale operations.
After becoming frustrated in this often one sided process and seeing the big boys funding the usual suspects many small and mid-sized organizations have take an honest look at the true limitations of their impacts. They have opened up dialogues with fellow non-profits, social entrepreneurs, local for-profit enterprises and even progressive corporations and this new dialogue has begun to lead to the emergence of a collaborative network of disruptors. This network understands that they maybe tackling multiple issues outside of their skill set and instead of pigeon holing their model they chose to create open platforms of working.
Here is where the Lulan Artisans example comes into play. Part of their mission is to tackle human trafficking. Rather than waging an endless awareness campaign they realize the only way to truly create an alternative - is to create an alternative. What gets these young women out of the system is not a poster but a stable job. By being a locally driven for profit social venture they also understand that you cannot only create sustainable model by the products you produce. There needs to be a level of social infrastructure in place that allow for the birth of new weaving centers. Here is where a project focused non profit, such as Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG), Project H, Practical Action or ours, can bring in initial seed capital to improve or develop infrastructure and basic amenities. By physically building a tangible vision of the future and allowing open replication will result in higher impacts than if these organizations worked separately.
Coupled with a step down approach to local ownership these cooperatives will thrive long after the seed organizations have left.
As a side note this collaboration was selected as one of the top 25 for the Members Project (out of 1190) and is in the semi-finals for funding. For the next 21 days American Express card holders will be able to vote for which five will receive funding.