By Michael Lwin, Managing Director of Koe Koe Tech, an IT social enterprise building innovative health and law software systems in Myanmar
Koe Koe Tech is seizing a golden opportunity to develop software for 1,000 NGO health clinics, 1,000 hospitals, 1,500 rural health clinics, 400 courts, and 330 municipal government offices across Myanmar. Capitalizing on this unique occasion is proving a lot more difficult than it should be.
Here’s the bottom line: if we sought impact investment and venture capital funding, these innovations wouldn’t have the opportunity to flourish because the software development initiatives—which took five long years of blood, sweat, and tears to attain—take too long for investors who need rapid monetization. A surprising source turned these ideas into reality: traditional aid funding and partnerships.
One key challenge for social enterprises focused on scale and systems change is that current systems tend to favor social enterprises focused on producing and distributing widgets like solar panels, microfinance loans, seeds, irrigation pumps, and other smallholder farmer-focused inputs. While these are important interventions, the focus on these types of social enterprises leads, in part, to some of the scale challenges we see in the social enterprise space.
Although current systems tend to favor social enterprises with a focus on production and distribution, imagine the impact if the current paradigm for social entrepreneurs shifted to incorporate both microeconomics and political economy. Social entrepreneurs would be positioned to make significant impact at scale. Thought leaders such as Bill Easterly, Jeff Sachs, Angus Deaton, and Daron Acemoglu would all agree: the government and associated institutions exhibit vast influence over the wellbeing of a country and its people.
Imagine if donors such as USAID, DFID, DFAT, and the World Bank—all of whom currently finance work by large international nonprofit organizations and private contractors—adjusted their current model to incentivize inclusion of local, in-country social enterprises to be part of implementing consortiums. Koe Koe Tech is a leading example of such a social enterprise. Through our partnership with a prime organization, we are developing software that will improve the lives of countless people across Myanmar.
Learning and knowledge transfer from our prime organization is invaluable—it involves sharing expertise and knowledge on processes, systems, and controls to ensure sustained success of our enterprise of 50 employees. Furthermore, the consortium’s reputation allows us to engage the government at scale.
Given the contractual implications, the prime organization is also bound to ensure our success, as our wins are their wins, and our mutual success enhances our reputations with the donor.
This relationship provides far more value than any accelerator, investor, or fellowship. Our prime organization pays us to deliver, and the donor holds us to the highest standards. Experienced members of the consortium guide us to successful implementation, while we retain the creativity, agility, and flexibility to innovate and not get bogged down with paperwork. By contrast, an accelerator typically offers infrequent touchpoints with leaders over Skype. Working closely with consortium experts face-to-face is hands-down the most effective way of learning and building relationships.