“And this is the registration number, 300 students in less than 24 hours since the opening ceremony. We can call this an outstanding success, but 1 month ago we wouldn’t bet reaching this point”
In summer of 2018, a group of 9 committed people from different origins, and together with a Community Hero and the support of BOOKBRIDGE, decided to embark on a learning journey that led to the start up of a social enterprise in Sri Lanka.
The social enterprise was meant to be a Learning Center where students and employers from the community could be connected in order to foster market needs through innovation and initiative taking.
The community was Hungama in Hambantota District, located in the Southern Province in Sri Lanka. The community has excellent projections in terms of economic growth expressed in several infrastructure investments. Ultimate goal of the Learning Center is to provide the appropriate tools so that the economic growth can be also capitalized in the community. Based on this approach, the Learning Center aimed to provide not only typical English and IT courses, but also career guidance workshops, music or entrepreneurial masterclasses.
For a period of 6 months, the entire team worked in assessing the community needs and developed the Business Plant to be presented to a private investor. During this period, the extended team worked according to certain values defined and agreed upon as a team, and based on aspects like trust on the foundations and on the team members; as well as open and transparent communication, within the team and with the stakeholders. Communication was fluid and constant, with weekly virtual meetings and on-site learning activities in Germany.
There were instances when the communication between the local team in the community and the remote team in Europe had downs, but these were not raised by the team as a potential source of issues.
In November of 2018, after a successful pitch the private investor granted the funds for the start up and initial operations of the Learning Centre. We finally reach the execution phase, and agreed on a plan for the pre-opening activities. This included rental of building, refurbishment activities in the building, marketing activities (promotion, communication to the community, etc.), legal procedures. And with a clear and fixed deadline: the opening of the Learning Centre had to be on 31.01.2019.
The news was shocking. Two weeks before starting the pre-opening activities and 2 months before the deadline, the community hero decided to step out from the project. Without any “plan B” and with a short and challenging deadline, the team worked hard to understand the new situation based on facts and figures, and focused on solutions and not on the problem. Few alternatives were considered, and with the support of BOOKBRIDGE a new community hero from Pelawatte was identified and brought on board.
Therefore, the team decided to stick to the mission and created the proper atmosphere to press the reset button.
This meant a deep revision of the Business Plan and the execution activities. Focus was on providing the minimum valuable product (English and IT courses), and the team assumed the fact that a hands-on approach would be needed and hard work on-site had to be performed.
Communication was key because decisions had to be taken fast and we were in the middle of vacation period for the majority of the team. Therefore, the team maintained the already agreed communication style based on openness and transparency, and kept an open and proactive communication with the investor.
Regardless the time pressure and the limited availability during the crisis period, the team kept involved in the project, as trust within the team and believe on purpose remained unchanged during the whole journey.
In case of a similar situation, our recommendations to other teams are:
· Make sure there is a good and strong relationship with the stakeholders, especially with the investor.
· Use risk assessment tools and create alternatives.
· Always have constant and open communication within the team.
· Speak up if sources of potential problems are identified, and ask for help when needed.
· Clarify ambiguities and address problems, even though it is a “gut feeling”.
· Limit options and focus on the core offering.
· Believe in purpose!