Earlier this year, we launched our eLearning course for social enterprises in January with a second installment in May. Social enterprises from across the globe – from places we didn’t even think we could reach – applied. So we began to wonder, who are these social enterprises? What are their models? What do they need most to reach the most marginalized populations? So I sat down with Charles Njemo Batumani and Arun Kumar Das, two social entrepreneurs who finished the first installment of our eLearning course in January to see what they’ve done, where they see their enterprises going and why eLearning was a way for them to improve their social enterprise. Charles is building affordable housing for low and middle income earners in Limbe, Cameroon while Arun is developing a natural plant product to combat malnutrition in Odisha, India.

Tell me a bit more about your social enterprise.
CNB: Housing is needed by the masses, especially those who can’t afford it. As the co-founder of Njebach Social Enterprise, our ultimate aim is to develop housing that supports sustainable and healthy living conditions for the native communities in Limbe. We seek public lands, secure the title, and then seek funding to build customized housing.

AKD: In my community of Odisha, childhood malnutrition is widespread. My company, Invest Moringa, aims to fight the malnutrition of pregnant women and children by leveraging a plant with nutritional properties—the moringa leaf. We work with local farmers to promote the plant’s production and provide training and technical support with the help of grants.
What did you gain from the e-Learning course?
CNB: This course transformed my approach to my enterprise—especially how to analyze the progress of our project. I never thought about having a value proposition before—through my learning, I was able to translate a proposition for our project with different stakeholders.
AKD: The adaptive leadership part of the course is excellent for entrepreneurs—especially the discussions on how to lead. I became much more motivated after the course. It multiplied my commitment to expand my enterprise. I attended the Sankalp Forum to continue learning and building connections to donors, partners, and even my fellow social enterprises from whom I can learn.
Outside of the set curriculum, what part of the course would you say was most impactful?
CNB: I thought the course materials were very important—they were customized for social entrepreneurs and to the point. I always refer back to these materials; if something is missing then I do additional research. The online focus group discussions with the facilitator helped, because we discussed different perspectives and challenges and how to find solutions.
AKD: The connections I made with people from all over world were helpful. I met people from India and Vietnam and elsewhere, and we still keep in touch. Our projects and focus brought us together. Even though these people are from completely opposite parts of the world, the problems we are facing are very similar. We can work with each other to help solve these problems.
It’s been a while since the course, have you applied anything you have learned from the course?
CNB: We have applied much of the M&E learning. Now, in a housing assessment among local dwellers, we collect primary data on income, location, and housing requirements. This is a crucial change because this data collection is helping us to segment the market and target the needs of beneficiaries. We now have benchmarks to follow.

AKD: I improved my business plan. Previously, it was generic and did communicate effectively what my organization did. Now, the plan has an area on research, products, development, and market targets. Additionally, M&E has proven to be very effective. We have already set up indicators to begin to evaluate impact.
So what is next for your social enterprise?
CNB: Our data collection is helping us to figure out the types of housing systems needed and allowing us to target the exact problems of the beneficiaries. From here, we need to demonstrate the sustainability of the project so that the bank will approve our proposals. We have gained the support of local chiefdoms, who need to approve any native lands development.

AKD: We are in the early stages, so we are looking for more mentoring and investment. It is so important to connect with the right people, to get input and grow and develop the business. This part of world doesn’t get much financial support, so the challenge for social enterprises is limited investing opportunities.

Innovative Business Models for Better Impact is a four week eLearning course designed, created, and facilitated by the World Bank Group’s Development Marketplace, in collaboration with the Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Institute, and theWorld Bank Group’s eInstituteThe first installment ran from January to February 2015, and the second from May to June 2015. The Social Enterprise Innovations team will be running the course regularly to reach as many social enterprises as possible. In addition to creating an eLearning course for social enterprises, the team is currently developing an eLearning course for policy makers in order to ensure there is a strong ecosystem to allow innovative solutions from social enterprises can scale effectively. 

Alexandra Endara is the Project Coordinator for the eLearning aspect of Social Enterprise Innovations. This is her second blog post in a series on the impact of eLearning on social innovation, social entrepreneurs, and innovative business models. You can read her first blog, Innovative Business Models for Better Impact: eLearning for Social Enterprises here.

Originally published in World Bank Blog