Eating Your Cake and Having It!

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By: Onikepe Oluwadamilola Owolabi, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Onikepe Oluwadamilola Owolabi, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.

December was an awesome month with much better weather in Mumbai than when I arrived. I can now read Hindi script and I attended a course in Hyderabad, courtesy of my mentor, where I learned a lot about myself and enjoyed the fantastic Arab cuisine. I also had a fantastic Indian Christmas and an even better new year which I spent with Hellen Kotlolo, my Young Champion colleague working in Ahmedabad.

Work was fast paced this month, but so much fun. I completed my evaluation report of SNEHA’s community resource centers and for the New Year I’m starting a new project, which combines so many of the different things I’m interested in and involves creating and testing a sustainability plan for our 4 community resource centers as their donor funding ends this year.

The Young Champions project and Ashoka as a whole have piqued my interest, because it sees a future for two worlds I hitherto hadn’t understood the balance between: charity/philanthropy and profit-making/business. In my early days of exploring the concept of social entrepreneurship (which was relatively new to me), I started to look at the fields of development, funding, research, and business very differently, and every time I did a web search, Ashoka was at the forefront of this interesting field. In social enterprises, I found an area where people with diverse skills and interests could come together to build models of change that could actually help people to live and make a living, make immense profit (social and financial), and try out a whole new combination of things to reduce the reliance of the field of development solely on external donor funding, and help the business world make relevant social profit.

Now I know that there is no magic equation for sustainability, and that balancing all the kinds of profit needed to keep ventures running for an NGO is a huge task. But I love the fact that we can try, and that I’m working on a plan to make SNEHA’s community resource centers sustainable.

I’ve written out some ideas, divided my plan into different important bits, I’m planning a community market survey and focus group discussions, and I’m terribly excited and scared. My question is: can we pull this off? Can we sustain the drive for maternal health in the slums, help the community to commit small sums to this venture to help with some overhead costs for the center’s operation, and help a good number of women to improve their livelihoods from businesses woven around the center?

Most of my childhood I remember being told, “You can’t eat your cake and have it!” But in the world of social entrepreneurship I think I can, and it’s a terribly exciting feeling. I’m working with a great team of people, and I’m looking forward to testing out our strategies and seeing how they work. I know it’ll take some time to get it right, but I look forward to seeing it work.