The best way to be sustainable is being profitable

by Sheila Romero (ELP 2016) | Senior Environmental Consultant, Environmental Resources Management, Peru

How many of you have heard about a village where a project started but once the funding was over, the project couldn´t continue and the only thing that we could see was the disbelief of the local people.  How many of you have heard about a project that even with enough funding did not work because it did not fit the reality of the community. Could you imagine not only how local people could feel but also, how much investment in resources and time we had lost? That was exactly one of our discussions during the ELP sessions.

Dr. Ernesto Sirolli, founder of Sirolli Associates, gave us a very powerful presentation that began with an explanation of the typical mistakes people - with good intentions - do in order to help others to leave poverty: “not listen to them” and believe they know more about the problems and necessities that those people are facing, and of course, show up uninvited.

Admitting these mistakes is not easy, but it has been necessary to actually generate a change, in the experience of Dr. Sirolli, and we should consider it if we really want to see a change that bring environmental, social and economic benefits and that can keep in time.

Generate profit has been poorly considered for organizations oriented to the welfare of vulnerable populations; however, we must remember that even if you are working for an NGO, as Mr. Dick Beahrs mentioned in one of our lessons, “there is someone, somewhere, who needs to make profit”. And there is nothing wrong with being profitable, in fact, all of us have needs and need revenue in order to afford them, and that is just what local entrepreneurs are looking for.

People value things more when they are part of the process and when the success is a consequence of their efforts and the passion they put in it. Therefore, instead of telling people what they need to do, if you really want to help, just listen to them, but not in a community meeting, as Dr. Sirolli said, because entrepreneurs will not tell anybody their ideas about the opportunities they identify, unless they see you as a “partner” that can assist them to transform their passion into a way of living.

Making sustainable businesses is proving to be a real solution for change and it is based in the passion people put in their own growth.