My Arms Wide Open Community Business Model

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Warren Te Brugge:

"My Arms Wide Open® is a Canadian Federally registered foundation that I established to work with mothers, children and youth to crate change in the communities by creating sustainable community based businesses, education systems and infrastructure built entirely around the needs of their communities.

We start within each community by facilitating our Iziko Labahlali (Hearth of the Community) program that focuses on mindset, helping the participants to see themselves as deserving, contributing members of their communities. Through the course of the program we identify needs and skills within the community and then work to develop opportunities to establish economic activity around those needs to build autonomous community based enterprises, transferring in the gaps in the skills required. We make the initial seed-loan start-up investment and set up a management board comprising of members of the community and commit to a full 5 years of working alongside the employee members of the community as they earn out the shares of the company. In rural South Africa, as we set up these endeavours we do not use a co-op model for this because of the high incidence of co-op failures generally. We use what is called a closed corporation which the government recently moved into a private company structure. Each community has the potential to be different based on the local circumstance and regulations, depending on what country or region they are located in.

Where we perhaps differ from others is possibly in how we begin the process in environments with extreme circumstances(unemployment, poverty, health, violence, abuse), as we noted above. We first assist and engage around mindset to help and enable the community members to accept and acknowledge themselves and their circumstance without looking outside to place 'blame'; to be able to see their reality and work from there, for some for the first time in their lives. We do not dismiss the fact that they have in fact been 'put upon', taken advantage of, abused and ignored by past and current regimes, we simply want to create awareness of: where they are starting from (so that they can create a plan to live forward for themselves); the fact that they are valuable and can make a contribution; and as a result of this awareness, understanding and acceptance, how they in fact are able to take the steps to create real change for themselves without relying on or waiting for someone else to do it for them, including us. We are simply the enabler and a supporter, they are the change agents. They design their own future, by asking questions we help to identify opportunities for them to choose from and decide how they will take advantage of those or not and where they fit into their own plan of their future.

The actions which take place within the community are driven by the community itself including the decisions and choices they choose to make. Our goal is not steer them but to mentor them and transfer skills as needed. What we bring into focus within the community itself are the actual needs that exist within the community and then build economic activity around these needs to create traction, supporting them start to growing and ultimately thrive. To protect ownership for the community, the My Arms Wide Open foundation charter was written and established where it cannot own the businesses, it can invest through the seed-loan and the adapted loan forgiveness structure and offer assistance and support. The considerations that we applied when this was done were focused on achieving the 'create no dependencies', 'ask only questions' and 'do nothing for, only with' mandates we imposed on ourselves.

Through the charter of the community-based company the participating members agree to a number of items and make a commitment to these:

  • They must have attended and completed our Iziko Labahlali program;
  • Be permanently resident in the community;
  • Agree to ask 'why' things are done not 'how' to do them - we believe they learn how anyway, which is simply learning a process. we want them to see the bigger picture of why each action or component is important;
  • Through the 'why' they learn every aspect of the business and create transparency in reporting and accounting - creates an open system where each person understands what is happening and how they each contribute to the success of the business, creating a real sense of value and worth.
  • Agree to remain fully active within the business for a full five years for their shares and warrants to vest - we evaluate personal growth (skills), team support and community support and development annually making share grants that accumulate to each person as determined by their own commitment and participation so that by the end of the 5-years they own the entire business and a portion of the businesses they have helped to create and support (see below);
  • Agree to invest 25% of the bottom line each year into new community based business that is started by new Iziko Labahlali graduates in either their own community or another community we are working in - by doing this we grant a seed-loan forgiveness amount each year until the value is depleted at which point they can continue to make investments if they choose - we encourage this of course;
  • Mentor and support those new businesses - they have a vested interest
  • Act and conduct themselves in the best interests of their fellow 'owners', the business, their families and community.

What we achieve is we create a web of autonomous businesses within the community that are all connected through a common and vested interest in each others success. It is our goal to develop 1,000 of these communities throughout Africa to create a web of connected and vested communities.

The design of the business structure itself serves to re-form what has become a linear existence and society for most back into a society the flows as a circle engaging all levels, restoring a balance that includes the environment and every part of the demographic of the community back into the whole. We want to see these communities live and thrive, not merely exist. We support the creation and sustainability of the whole through each of the My Arms Wide Open causes - mindset/mentorship/mindful action | food security | entrepreneurship | education | community-based infrastructure.

Do we have all the answers or have it perfect? No, far from it, we are in our infancy. However, we believe it is a start and we are learning and adjusting continuously as we engage with communities and collaborate with other organizations. It is our belief that it will take a feminine energy to restore balance and a holding of hands and collaboration from all quarters to create the change we need in our world. We are here to make our contribution.

A relevant question is how we ourselves earn revenue to support the foundation. We do not draw any revenues or income from My Arms Wide Open or the community businesses themselves. Our revenues are generated through our consulting work and services at Manzimvula®, which itself is a B Corp focused on the benefit of society. All grants and donations and a percentage of our consulting revenues in the form of a donation to My Arms Wide Open are what funds the communities initiatives. We are confident that by abiding by our guiding principles and working alongside the community members they will achieve the goals and vision they have of their futures.

(email, April 2012)