As people become conscious of the need to take better care of our world, businesses and organizations for social good are coming together in new ways.  Traditionally, we have thought of corporate enterprises and nonprofit organizations as mutually exclusive structures—focusing on either money-making or social impact. However, more and more organizations are seizing the opportunity to combine these two aspects by creating social enterprises, selling services or products that have a positive social impact.

Dr. Seana Steffen of the Restorative Leadership Institute (RLI), who has worked closely with Tostan on strategic planning, defines a social enterprise as, “an organization which serves the common good.” Roger Martin, board member at Skoll Foundation and Sally Osberg, president wrote in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Social entrepreneurship signals the imperative to drive social change, and it is that potential payoff, with its lasting, transformational benefit to society, that sets the field and its practitioners apart.” Typically, the revenue generated through sales is invested directly back into the enterprise itself to continue or expand their social impact activities.

On Thursday, May 25, Tostan was invited to participate in a roundtable organized by Partners Global, with support from the Ford Foundation, on the subject of social entrepreneurship. At this event, nearly 30 representatives from civil society organizations across Senegal convened to hear from the private sector about the social initiatives they’re engaged in and to brainstorm ways for their organizations to begin making revenue. This meeting highlighted the importance of civil society making their own money to ensure sustainability and the continuity of their work.

In the face of the European refugee crisis, terrorism and other major global problems, international development funding for NGOs has become increasingly sparse and competitive; organizations must be creative and use their expertise and social position to sell services that align with their mission. Tostan has been preparing for this since 2011, when we decided to prepare the launch of the Tostan Training Center (TTC) after receiving numerous requests from all over the globe for trainings and program implementation.

The goal of the TTC is to catalyze like-minded individuals and organizations. We do this through offering trainings on Tostan’s program content, human rights based approach, participatory methodology, and organized diffusion strategy. We saw that there was a need for training, and after a comprehensive feasibility study conducted in 2014, we officially launched the TTC in 2015. So far, we have held three trainings, welcoming participants from various sectors from over 20 countries. We are working with our partners—such as Orchid Project, Girls Not Brides, Spark MicroGrants, and Carter Center—to ensure their members are receiving training that can be adapted to enhance their work in the field.

With the help of Dr. Steffen and RLI, the TTC team is developing a social enterprise plan, working not only to help trainees achieve results in the field, but also to create a sustainable financial model, which allows Tostan to diversify its revenue and become less reliant on traditional non-profit revenue sources.  

At the Partners Global roundtable, we were proud to serve as an example for other Senegalese civil society organizations that are incorporating mission-aligned revenue generating activities into their financial strategies. We brainstormed new ideas, explored what other services we might provide to private sector actors, and helped other organizations think of what they might be able to sell.

Tostan has been viewed globally as a leader in this field, especially after being awarded the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2010, and we are excited to see this continue through the development of the Tostan Training Center, and the sharing of our model.


By Liz Grossman, Senior Strategic Relations Manager–TTC