Safe Waters Foundation Africa has been fighting for ten years to create a financially sustainable sea rescue organization for Lake Victoria in Africa, but lacks an arena for social entrepreneurship. Mattias Wengelin, head of operations, is now calling for venture capital, preferably with a claim for repayment, but without a claim for a refund and profit maximization.
Lake Victoria in Africa, as large as the southern Baltic Sea, takes up to 5000 lives annually, according to local authorities. The most common causes include a generally poor safety awareness; non-existent use of life jackets, no other safety equipment and bad and overloaded boats. Add to that a non-existent sea rescue organization, both in terms of operational units but also the lack of a sea rescue center.
We at Safe Waters Foundation Africa (formerly National Lake Rescue Institute) have for ten years tried to get a regional organization similar to the Swedish Sea Rescue Society to become sustainable and financially sustainable on its own. Initially, things went relatively well for the organization, which mainly focused on training and operation of sea rescue stations at e.g. Lake Victoria and Lake Albert. Through support from a large international company, specific efforts from individual embassies in Kampala, and the Sea Rescue Society, the organization succeeded in establishing local life jacket manufacturing, maritime safety campaigns, child groups, local opinion formation and also seven sea rescue stations, some in Uganda National Parks in collaboration with Uganda Wildlife.
What we did not succeed in doing, however, was finding forms for long-term financing of the business. When the company chose to support other activities, the organization collapsed and had to be put in the mothballs. We had to try to find an alternative approach.
The need is still great, and we have recently discussed how we can make a restart. What we have come to is that we must put our humanitarian focus aside, and focus entirely on creating a stable financial base. A foundation that does not put us in a position of dependence on the goodwill of others. Some readers may be familiar with the concept of CivMil, Civil / Military cooperation for a common goal. What we will now do could, with the same logic, be called HumCom - humanitarian activities on a commercial basis. As a sheep in wolf clothing, we venture into the commercial world, within the framework of our NGO / NFP, and become a business in order to generate funds for our humanitarian activities. The humanitarian purpose is the goal and the commercial activity becomes our "collection department".
The ideal is if our assets have dual uses, that is, can contribute to humanitarian development but also be used as carriers of commercial services. For example, a high-speed boat can just as well function as a transport boat or taxi boat (commercial services), but also as a sea ambulance or sea rescue boat (humanitarian services). An alarm center can function both as a crisis management call center for companies (commercial), but also as a crisis management and maritime rescue center in partnership with local authorities (humanitarian). The idea is that the business should financially support itself in order to be able to deliver humanitarian services when needed, and at the same time drive development through an improved infrastructure. I mean, our idea is good, but it's turned out to be a patrol.
No one really wants to feel at a HumCom. Since we are dependent on commercializable assets and start-up capital (buying the boat and manning it in the example above), we have to work through the usual channels; donations, grants, CSR, aid organizations, etc., and it is now that the problems arise. CSR departments at companies refer to the business operations because there is a commercial component in the arrangement. At Sida, we are referred to the Business for Development programs (B4D) for the same reason. We do not qualify for the companies' business operations because we are not commercially interesting and are not seen as a sufficiently strong business case. We are not a for-profit organization. We do not qualify for Business for Development because we do not (at least not at present) have a company with ambitions to develop its own business in the region with us, because we are not sufficiently commercial, and do not have a global outreach.
SwedFund is not an alternative as we are not a limited company. Private investors could be a way, which unfortunately would dilute the humanitarian goal, that surpluses from the commercial go to do good. One last alternative is to completely leave Not for Profit the world and only exploit the market, to become a commercially focused organization / company, hopefully with a humanitarian heart (maybe it can be called ComHum?). In this way, we would leave the humanitarian system and make a completely commercial journey. The risk in the long run will then be that the good may give in to profit maximization according to normal economic principles. As a humanitarian entrepreneur, I do not want to take the risk that greed is given the opportunity to take over my humanitarian purpose.
On Lake Victoria, almost 5000 people die every year. But very many can be saved, but it is crucial that there is an organization that has the resources to do so. I want to create that organization and I think I know how it has to be financed, but I lack an arena for social entrepreneurship within the framework of non-profit organizations. I lack venture capital, preferably with a claim for repayment, but without a claim for a refund and profit maximization. It is possible that I did not look enough, but right now I am quite lost between the chairs.
Mattias Wengelin, Safe Waters Foundation Africa