The Challenges of Scale and Sustainability

In fall 2015 the first-ever Jacobs Fellows started their Entrepreneurship Career Program at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Hadiatou Barry is one of the Jacobs Fellows. She has been exploring fundraising opportunities through corporate partnerships for a Kenyan boarding school for highly talented girls. Barry shares some of these findings with us.

Text: Hadiatou Barry

The Daraja Education Fund (DEF) advocates for and advances quality secondary education for all through sustainable school models. It currently supports the Daraja Academy, a boarding school that welcomes brilliant Kenyans girl who otherwise would have to end their dreams to attend high school. The Academy was founded in 2006 by Jason and Jenni Doherty and to date 110 girls have graduated from the Academy. Daraja is known for attracting girls with tremendous grit and talent who not only perform well in school but go on to become agents of change in their communities.

I had the opportunity to work with Daraja during my first year at Haas through the Berkeley Board Fellows Program (BBF). BBF is an opportunity for students to gain exposure to non-profits and to learn the role that boards play in those organizations. Through the program I sat on the board of DEF and took on with a fellow classmate the task of developing a corporate partnership strategy for Daraja. As tremendous and impactful as the work of the Academy is, it was facing two intertwined challenges: sustainability and scale.

DEF’s fundraising channels included small and big personal donors but it hadn’t explored the potential of corporate partnerships. The scope was to assess if corporate partnerships would be the best path forward for Daraja and if yes what partners would offer the best and what forms the engagements would take. The goal was to offer a strategy that would enable Daraja to:

  • Triple student enrolment
  • Ensure four years of education to all matriculated students

I went into the project certain that corporate partnerships would be the way forward for Daraja. All that was required was fleshing out Daraja’s value proposition and finding private sector partners that cared about educating and empowering girls.

  • First, we focused on developing the criteria through which potential partners would be filtered. These included reputation, values alignment, and funding potential.
  • Then, we developed a shortlist of partners with a preference for those with a presence in Kenya and past history of supporting education NGOs. That led to a shortlist that featured CISCO, Intel, and Salesforce, among others.
  • Finally, we interviewed experts in the corporate social responsibility space, Directors at UC Berkeley’s Center for Social Sector Solution, and Foundations such as the Charles Schwab Foundation.

However, through the interview process we eventually realized that corporate partnerships might not be the panacea we were hoping for. A few insights forced us to re-assess our initial enthusiasm. I learned in particular that:

  • Corporate partners often seek non-profits with a scale large enough to make their engagement visible; and Daraja was on the smaller end.
  • Corporate partnerships are often developed through personal relationships that leverage Board members; and Daraja currently lacked that reach.
  • Corporate partnerships come with strings attached that can cause organizations to deviate from their core mission; and Daraja could not compromise its approach.

We reached the conclusion that Daraja was not yet at the critical scale that would make a corporate partnership a clear upside. In fact, foundations were a better fit and a resource that DEF hadn’t fully explored. I am currently finalizing a roadmap with my teammate that will enable DEF to solicit corporate partnerships if it decides to do so in the future. It will focus on the pathways Daraja can use to build the internal capacity and garner the social capital it will need to grow.

Daraja Academy is built on a strong model for educating girls around the world, not only in Africa, and has had a transformative impact in the communities it has reached. Getting to serve on its board was a tremendous opportunity and illustrated the challenges non-profits face when shifting gears from proving a concept to scaling impact.