Published: 10 June 2015
A core objective of the Internet Now project was to establish a sustainable company as to guarantee long term availability of Internet access and related jobs. In this sense the establishment of SINFA as a for-profit company provides a true test for a new form of sustainable development.
SINFA combines social objectives and normal business objectives like generating profits. Profits are needed for investments in the company’s future and consequently for job security and income generation. SINFA’s (business) success is not only important for the local people in Northern Uganda but also for Oxfam and its partners as it may demonstrate the new way of sustainable development.
With these new development objectives in mind, the company was established like any other company. A business plan and business model was developed for SINFA’s management to adopt and provide strategic direction and financial targets. Proper business processes were defined and staffed with the appropriate and qualified people. Establishing a company like SINFA would be challenging for several reasons and not necessarily only local circumstances. Although one important critical success factor identified in SINFA’s initial business plan, was getting access to Uganda’s National Backbone Infrastructure (NBI). Unfortunately access came much later than anticipated (more than two years later) and also income from SINFA’s key revenue generator, i.e. impact sourcing or micro work, had some drawbacks at the early stages.
But setbacks are part of the normal business process and businesses adapting to their ever changing environment survive. Hence it was necessary to find other revenue streams and slow down the deployment of the SINFA’s centres in areas outside Gulu, as to increase revenues and minimize the operational expenditures. SINFA’s business was turned around and its business plan redirected. Another key revenue driver was added to SINFA’s business lines; wholesale of Internet access. Now with having access to the NBI this new business line seems to be very promising. It will enable SINFA to become profitable and the halted deployment of centres may be reactivated as soon as sustainability is proven.
Looking back at this long process, from developing funding proposal to establishing the company and redirecting its strategic direction, Oxfam and its partners have come a long way and some very valuable lessons learned have been acquired. Independently of SINFA long term success, these lessons should be shared with the rest of the development world. In my view true sustainable development should go hand-in-hand with economic development and SINFA is one of the very tests of this new way forward.
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