Tightrope Enterprises

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By: Julianne Parker, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Julianne Parker, 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.

Managing any type of social enterprise is truly a tightrope act: you have to find this perfect balance between implementing effective programming, while also keeping yourself afloat administratively. Working with Lua Nova for the last six months has shown me the various strategies organizations in this precarious position use to make sure such a balance is met. I am consistently overwhelmed by the energy and dedication it takes to ensure that both sides of this equation are successful: to not only guarantee that the model for your enterprise is sustainable, but also to ensure that the needs of your target audience are being met.

One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome is simply a question of human resources: successful social enterprises rely on a dedicated and effective staff network, but retaining that staff in a consistent and drama-free manner can prove nearly impossible. Unfortunately I have seen first-hand the ebbs and flow in staff problems here at Lua Nova the last months and the way such challenges hurt the effectiveness of the organization’s programming. At the same time, I’ve been so encouraged in this last month particularly as the organization has adopted a strong strategic focus on forming new sustainable partnerships, both institutional and personal, to ensure that all the fantastic programs Lua Nova offers to adolescent mothers can go forward.

For example, rather than retaining one or two full-time and expensive staff to cover key sectors like income generation, Lua Nova is switching to a team model, partnering with local businesses and other individuals to come in and cover specific aspects of income generation: skills training, management, marketing, etc. In this way, there is a practical outreach to the private sector, the programming doesn’t suffer from employee burn-out, and there is a great diversification in the programming to maintain the interest and activity of the girls involved.

My own role has thus been hugely strengthened, and I couldn’t be happier. Among other things, I’m now working with a few new partners to try and help strengthen the arts center here at Lua Nova through various small income-generation projects using the skills of sewing and craft. A few blogposts ago I lamented the challenges I faced in invigorating the will (vontade) of the girls at Lua Nova to participate in this arts-cum-income-generation project. I was struggling to manage everything on my own, when I lacked certain key skills (knowing how to operate a sewing machine as number one!) to make the project really take off. Now, with new partners involved, I can focus on the aspects that work best for me and my skill-set (designing therapeutic activities for the girls to get them to understand the “why” of what we are doing), while I can rely on others to teach sewing classes or design a marketing strategy for selling the finished products.

This type of innovative partnering is incredibly exciting, and I am so eager to continue on in my last three months in Brazil, contributing to Lua Nova where I can, while learning bucket loads to contribute to whatever ventures I pursue after June.