Sunday, November 27, 2011

Capacity Focus, 22: How could a Cybercollege and programmes such as the AA CCS pay their way?

Solomon famously said that "money is the answer to all things" [Eccles 10:19b] and while money is not the only key resource in developing something like the proposed AA CCS, regional digital library and associated cyber college linked to microcampus centres in a network, it is a legitimate issue and key constraint.

Let us think in steps, in a generic, in-principle way (we will not do a full budgetary analysis in the public domain!), as a guide for our thoughts, and as a help to other exercises in not-for-profit, social entrepreneurship. This term is probably unfamiliar, so let us define courtesy Wikipedia as just linked:
Social entrepreneurship is the work of social entrepreneurs. A social entrepreneur recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to achieve social change (a social venture). While a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur focuses on creating social capital. Thus, the main aim of social entrepreneurship is to further social and environmental goals. Social entrepreneurs are most commonly associated with the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors,[1] but this need not preclude making a profit. Social entrepreneurship practised with a world view or international context is called international social entrepreneurship.[2]
So, we are now looking at creating a social transformation, vision-driven enterprise, launching it, and sustaining its growth and operations over time.

In steps of thought:

1 --> Not for profit. This is the key concept, we are looking at a fundamentally community-based initiative, with the regional church as the social context, with the need to have buy-in to a vision of what now is [based on a SWOT analysis], and how this can be transformed step by step into what can be by taking up a credible, well-aligned and robust alternative [ALT] to business as usual [BAU]:

The BAU vs credible, desirable alternative vision-driven change strategy

2 --> It also means that we have whole or partial separation of clients and customers

3 --> That is, those who are immediately served by the programme (students), may pay only some, or in some cases none, of the costs to sustain the programme that meets their needs. (Though, it is generally desirable that students pay some significant costs at tertiary level, not least so they will value what they are paying for and put in adequate effort.)

4 --> This requires that the service to be offered has to be also offered in the marketplace of sponsorship or subscription etc. There thus has to be an identifiable cluster of potential sponsors and subscribers -- probably a blend of deep pocket investors for some major capital projects, and a broad and shallow pool of pledged subscribers for general support, together with a network of strategic institutional partners. This logically leads to the following project team structure as a possible general organisational framework:

An example of a general project team based organisational framework
5 --> That runs a little ahead. We need to ask a more basic question: What would such investors, subscribers (various tiers) and institutional partners be willing to buy into, and volunteer time, skill and in-kind support on a sustained basis? 

6 --> That will look a lot like: second-opportunity secondary education and upliftment to a viable level of competency, in a Christian, disciple-building context towards transforming lives and communities in our region and beyond. This, in the context of enabling especially young people to find and fulfill themselves through walking in their calling under God in our region, and across the world. (Including, as tentmaking missionaries that will help other people across especially the strategic 10/40 Window belt from West Africa to Indonesia and China etc.)

7 --> On the part of partner institutions, the issue would be to be part of such a movement, and to provide microcampus centre and local administrative support, tied into other initiatives that target life transformation and community upliftment, in the region and across the world as Caribbean Christians go forth in a fully mobilised way under our Great Commission.

8 --> The objective of such support must be to develop and implement the central coordinating units, the network support and a cluster of local sites across the region, providing a viable ongoing financial pool of support.  And, onward, why not support daughter initiatives in strategic regions across the world too?

9 --> That looks like project and programme financing. Thus, (a) we must first fund creation of the initiative developed through launch projects, leading onwards to (b) the creation of a sustaining endowment. This will require (c) a fundraising and sponsorship/subscriber support arm.

10 --> To get specific, the envisioned main computer platforms for microcampus centres, would be student tablets, the sort of single board PCs and associated practical equipment that have been discussed, thin client PCs for the PC-equipped classrooms, more powerful main server and network interface PCs for these as well, teleconferencing and multimedia equipment, etc. Video intro:

. . . It might also be useful to encourage students to get a personal notebook PC with reasonable capabilities.

11 --> If the centre will offer multimedia production studies [strongly recommended], we will need the sort of multimedia lab that has been discussed here.  These will need to have the usual utilities plus a good digital bit-pipeline with a good broadband access, and probably wireless networking for the compound. Other optional areas of study -- e.g. agriculture for all, tech/voc courses, etc -- will come with associated specific development, launch and operating costs.

12 --> Assuming that we are looking at a supplementary use of a church, community centre, cybercafe or school etc, we can assume the usual institutional services and facilities such as washrooms, places to sit etc are available, but this means level of usage will go up. This implies janitorial and other support services, plus increased utility bills. Some facility development may be indicated and even additional buildings. At first level, that can be simply the purchase and adaptation of standard 20 or 40 ft shipping containers, with drywall for bringing the interiors up to standard. (Cf here and here.) Video:

13 --> For local administrative support, we will probably be looking at the equivalent of a strengthened church office, that will now need the equivalent of full time staffing. It should also have in it reprographics equipment (Riso style) and DVD duplication equipment. This looks like maybe one full time admin assistant level staffer and two or three half-time staff.

14 --> The courses will need local tutors, who should be given at least an honorarium for services plus a reasonable allowance for expenses. These can be part-time, but if the students are there for it, some full-time staff are always an advantage. (NB: Student fees would help defray staff and local support costs but should also support the network and co-ordinating centre. It is probably better on the whole to identify real costs and give explicit financial aid and scholarships. Such costing and financial management in turn implies a need for accounting systems and support people and equipment etc.)

15 --> There will also need to be a central co-ordinating office, with executive, administrative and technical support staff, with room for project staff on an as-needed basis. This last will probably be more consistent than may be anticipated. This could probably be co-located with a church or existing College. Teleconferencing should be used to minimise travel and meeting costs locally and regionally -- teleconferencing is actually economically cost-effective even across any reasonably sized town).

16 --> Since we are looking at a cybercollege with a cybercampus and a digital ebooks library, we need to either lease or own the equivalent of a small server farm, tried into the regional digital network at a point where we have reliable, ongoing technical support and affordable costs.

17 --> At least one component of that, the digital library, should be based at a regional College level library, such as the Zenas Gerig Library. With appropriate server and client software, books can be loaned in encrypted format with a time-limited permission. The same software can support purchase of books on a permanent basis, with the encryptation being used to control improper copying issues. (A central database of purchases will be needed, as tablets etc do go down and will need to be replaced.)

18 --> The initiative thus can be affiliated with a bookstore, and publishers can be incorporated as partners. 

19 --> But the more important extension would be for course developers to write course manuals with readers and workbooks incorporated, which can then be sold packaged with registration for courses.

20 --> This leads to the proposal of a course manual developer's fee, and a modest royalty per copy sold. Some of that could be used to offset support for a text book sub-site for each such work.

21 --> The need for such a node implies technical infrastructure and support staff, on the ICT side, the Library/Information Science side, and the publishing side. Some of that can be done over a network, but there will have to be some physically local staff. Again, this points to a site like the Zenas Gerig Library.

22 --> Doubtless, as such an initiative is worked up, other points will come up, but we can see a context for the budgeting and funding of the initiative.

23 --> Just, we must not make the unfortunately too common error of mistaking budgeting  for strategic planning. (cf. here, here, here, here,  for starters)

All of this brings us full circle to the classic three-pronged question: why not now, why not here, why not us? END

No comments: