Learnings from the Community of Practice “Social Enterprise Development”

Published: June 7, 2021

The Community of Practice “Social Enterprise Development” was founded in 2020 by a group of HORIZONT3000 Technical Advisors from all around the globe. A Community of Practice (CoP) is formed by a group of people, who have a common interest in the same topics and seek to learn together and from each other (Wenger, E, McDermott, R, Snyder, WM (2002) Cultivating Communities of Practice. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press). CoPs have been described to be challenging to operationalize in an organizational setting and also our CoP “Social Enterprise Development” had a bumpy start but managed to be revived successfully in 2021.

The Community of Practice “Social Enterprise” (CoP SE) was founded to exchange knowledge on social enterprise, particularly through sharing and discussing practical experiences but also relevant literature, in order to increase HORIZONT3000’s knowledge on the topic and enable participants to better support their (Partner) Organizations in social enterprise development. The first two sessions successfully covered a general introduction to social enterprise and a discussion on institutional change for social enterprise.

After the CoP started with few experienced participants, interest in the platform from other TAs and Partner Organizations grew and the CoP decided to open up for “guest listeners”. The subsequent session was attended by more than 30 guest listeners from various countries worldwide but even though it was a huge success in terms of participation, interest from original members and thus experts on social enterprise development declined.

What had happened? It became evident that the CoP was in danger of losing its original purpose and shifting from a CoP to a webinar-type of format. More and more members dropped out – some because they had finished their assignments but others because the CoP became less and less relevant to them.

In 2021, a team of TAs took on the task to revive the CoP. We critically looked into why our project lost speed so that we could learn from our mistakes. One mistake was to open the CoP for “guest listeners” too early. While a CoP should in principle be open to anyone interested in the topic, it is important to keep the process of “thinking together” in the center. As the CoP started including a large number of non-expert participants, the process of “thinking together”, learning together and from each other got lost. When reviving the CoP this was discussed and it was decided to keep the core of the CoP “small and relevant” with TAs, who have practical experience in social enterprise development. Also, the current CoP focuses much more on exchanging practical experiences, rather than presenting theoretical knowledge. While the former CoP featured long presentations, the current CoP works with small inputs followed by longer discussions.

With these changes in place, we hosted our first session in April 2021 and discussed how to best conduct “Customer Analysis” for social enterprises in the often informal settings of our Partner Organizations. The concept of a CoP has once more proven to be suitable for a topic like social enterprise development for NGOs – a topic that has some theoretical literature but little practical experience sharing. All participants are excited about the new CoP and we are confident that our Partner Organizations and assignments will greatly benefit. We will be meeting virtually every three months.

Lisa Nixdorf

Lisa Nixdorf

Lisa Nixdorf is a Flying Technical Advisor for HORIZONT3000, working with several Partner Organizations in Kenya and Tanzania on social enterprise development and other resource mobilization strategies. She is working with HAART Kenya on developing their strategies for resource mobilization further. Lisa holds a Magister Artium in African Studies and Economics.

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