Sunday, June 6, 2010

Charter Schools as a "Development Model"

I don't understand exactly what makes a social enterprise a social enterprise as opposed to just an NGO. I think it's one of those things where if the organization self-identifies as one then it is one. In my head they're all just NGOs, businesses, or confused foreigners.

I was reading the website of a new "social enterprise" that is split into two parts, the non-profit Manna Energy Foundation, and a for-profit, Manna Energy Ltd. As they share the same website, I think, for all intents and purposes, they run as one organization.

Their big idea is to install 400 water purification systems in Rwanda with government support. I'm not sure if the government is financing this or if donations are, or if they plan to charge people for the water. Over a longer time horizon, but I believe in the same communities, they are installing 300 biogas generators which will allow them to selling carbon credits to the U.N. The money will finance future projects (and make a profit for someone?).

It sounds like a good plan to me. I like "template" solutions for the developing world. There are a ton of great technologies that never scaled up. Some people argue the reason is that they can't be effectively implemented without a close and long-term collaboration with the community. Most of the technologies have to adapted with requires expertise, lots of travel, and a ton of money. Yet health technology, e.g. vaccines and bed nets, have been successfully scaled up, and it seems natural that infrastructure could and should be scaled and financed by the governments (it was in developed countries) . In a sense the "education technologies" of paper, pencils, schools, and educated instructors have been scaled in such a way, albeit the implementation leaves a lot to be desired.

What I think is interesting about this project is that while it claims to be a social enterprise and is technically for-profit, it reminds me most of the charter school movement in the U.S. Manna is more of a pseudo-government agency than a business. They do work that the government is supposed to do, but with more expertise and energy, the same premise behind the KIPP schools and other charters modeled on KIPP. Both charters and Manna are funded by the government.

Perhaps the "charter model" should be a new buzzword and source of inspiration in development. Charters are certainly making headway in fixing U.S. education, despite a few lingering questions about scalability.

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