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Artwork by Anuraag Nandagiri, 2017

The Mitti Collective and the people behind it have a larger goal of offering more than just a discussion to promote alternative agriculture practices. We have been witness to privileged times where technologies grew exponentially, regardless of the amount of resources they consumed. We have seen fossil fuels powering countries, nations and continents only to think of the aftermath retrospectively. It is out of question that some of these advancements have served us. But, there are others that have harmed the earth and, as a result humanity, beyond imagination. Our interest lies in rethinking the past  and providing insight to a plausible future.

It is often not easy to start an initiative and the challenges only get bigger as one proceeds to realize it as an organization. Social initiatives in the past tended to be disorganized that often eclipsed workflow management. In the years that have passed, the trends amongst such initiatives have been closely studied and a moderately coherent picture has emerged. In my attempts to learn more about how to bring a social initiative to life, I came across the online course “Entrepreneurship in Nonprofits”, offered online by the Center for Philanthropy Studies (CEPS) at the University of Basel, Switzerland. The course opened my eyes to many possibilities of achieving a social mission and offered a fresh take on social organizations; one of which is through a social enterprise.

As is with any understanding, definitions help in further elaborating a picture. When it comes to types of social organisations, the following matrix helps identify each type according to its level of innovation as well as market to mission balance:

Types of social organizations. Source: CEPS / University of Basel

From the matrix, one can narrow down the nature of an initiative, which in turn clears a pathway for the next steps. For instance, a nonprofit organization is characterized by low innovation in terms of managerial structure, with one-sided alignment to their social mission. In other words, nonprofits usually eliminate market factors from decision making and do not consider any market based techniques such as offering products or services at a level of profit. A social business on the other hand, is also low on innovation but maintains a balance between traditional business practice and social mission drive.

Despite the many successful nonprofits around the globe, certain tendencies can drive a nonprofit to limited growth paths. A concept in organization theory called institutional isomorphism describes how organizations can influence each other and lead to a similar structure through coercive measures, professional norms or simply mimicking proven successes. Isomorphism had an important role in forming a sort of learning curve for new organizations, eliminating uncertainties and creating legitimacy. However, it has also been a direct cause of path dependency; a concept we explore in the infographic below.

Infographic by Lotus Shaheen

Path dependency leads a nonprofit to little progress and much vulnerability. Lack of diversity in funding channels proposes huge consequences on a nonprofit’s future. In this context, it is necessary to recognize that what has always worked for an organization does not reflect what is best or most efficient. Thus, evaluating a social organization’s performance can demand a change in structure in order to attain higher efficiency for achieving its mission. Here stands social enterprise as a potential alternative.

A social enterprise balances between pursuing a social mission while keeping an agile business-like mindset. This helps the organization think outside the box, find innovative solutions and address complex social needs. A social enterprise is, however, hard to define in a strict scientific manner since innovation is at its core, leaving enough room for several models and frameworks to evolve. What brings all social enterprises under the same umbrella can be the set of skills that distinguishes social entrepreneurs, as illustrated in the last section of the infographic above.

But what does all of that have to do with The Mitti Collective?

Food safety and introducing a disruptive course to today’s prevailing industrial agriculture is not a light business to discuss, let alone to meddle with on practical grounds. It is indeed a complex social and environmental topic that requires unconventional approaches. Throughout the case studies and the inspirational projects in the field of alternative agriculture, I have noticed that many adopted hybrid models that can be identified as a social enterprise. Take Navdanya for instance, where besides it being a non-governmental organization that supports biodiversity, organic farming, farmers rights and seed saving, it has managed to build a direct marketing and fair trade organic network in India.

Navdanya’s example as a pioneer, has encouraged many like us that are motivated to work closely with communities. Scientific study of social enterprises has yielded in a good understanding of the dynamics of a social initiative. To many who have thought beyond their needs to support a larger society, this blog may help give a glimpse into the potential of their idea, and to some others probably a trigger into what other possibilities lie… 

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2 Comments

  • Sai Prakash Varma, May 18, 2020 @ 10:05 am Reply

    Great efforts, guys. I appreciate the authors perspective towards a non profit. I believe NPOs can make far greater impact because most of the for-profit companies think of making quick ROIs, dont innovate for efficient practices unless they bring huge wealth. A non profit can take on such markets as well and run like real business and make an impact. Its a need!

  • The Mitti Collective, May 18, 2020 @ 11:33 am Reply

    Thank you very much for your comment. I agree with you about the mindset of for-profit organizations and their priorities in quick ROIs. In some ways this is the current way of things, but, looking forward to a better understanding of a social innovation driven initiative

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