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Sustainability and outcomes

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Non-profit, focused on outcomes

Non-profit, focused on outcomes

Few days ago, I attended the General meeting of the non-profit association I am treasurer of. As each year since 3 years now, I presented the financial statements to the attendees, and the budget for this year. These two documents were approved, and employees were happy about the good results of the association even if we are crossing difficult time.

I was happy of course of this, but I remember people did not have always the same reaction. When I joined the board of directors 3 years ago, some people did not see positively a financial consultant joining a non-profit association. There were probably scared about some confusion with profit and non-profit. Such reaction was understandable, as the finance people are often seen as non-flexible people, only focused on profit and performances. Here is probably a confusion that could be done by employees of a non-profit, but by financial people too.

My first challenge was to be accepted by the people of the organization. My ambition to join this project was not to have power or to tell people how they have to do, but only to join an interesting social project as volunteer, and bring some competences in order to contribute to the success of the common project. My first thought was that I had to learn about the different activities of the organization, the interactions between the stakeholders of the different projects, in order to have a global picture of the association, to understand the work of each people and to be aware about the difficulties they were facing. This was a first condition for an efficient and harmonious collaboration. By showing interest to the work of each employee and volunteer, by asking some question to them about the different aspects of they job, I was showing my real and sincere interest in this project, and people began to trust me, as they noticed also that I did not interfere in their job. Each people his own competences.

There was clearly a need to professionalize the financial and administrative processes, in order to manage things on an efficient way, but also to provide credible financial information to the requesting subsiding authorities and potential partners. It was important to deliver a clear message about this need to get a structured financial process and to explain why. The accounting and the production of financial statement are not only legal obligations, but they represent also a financial management tool. This tool allows organization and her management team to have a clear picture of the financial situation on time, but also to have a “business” decision support. We know all that the business environment is not always a quiet story, but the non-profit environment is not quiet at all too, when your sources of financing are non-recurring sources, and that you are facing some regular crisis situations. In such situations, it is important to show that you have things on control, but also that you are able to define alternative strategies and to express what precisely your needs are, when you meet some potential donator or sponsors. People need to understand that financial tool is needed to ensure the sustainability of the project.

Here again, we speak about the confusion done by some people about things that are totally different. Indeed, what I mean here is that financial management does not mean profit. A non-profit organization does not focus on profit, but it is important to keep an eye on the balance between the expenses and the revenues, in order to preserve the owned capital. The goal is not to earn money, but to avoid to loose money. If it is the case, some decisions need to be taken in order to preserve the funds of the organization, but also to ensure the quality and the continuity of the activities and the provided services. It is not financial performance that is the focus in such environment, but the outcomes. If we try to reduce some operating and administrative expenses, it is not to save the integrality of the money, but to invest in more projects, responding to a demand and contributing to the goal of the association. The saved money will not be distributed to some shareholders, but will be reinvested in future project. This is a difficult part of the equation, to be able to have a long term vision with short term financial vision.

A long term vision is necessary, and projects have to be defined to materialize this vision. An appropriate strategy has to be implemented, in order to reach your defined goal. With these criteria, you focus on the sustainability of your project and the outcomes. These two factors contribute to social cohesion and personal satisfaction of people.

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Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

April 19, 2013 at 22:52

Education and entrepreneurship

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Education is the foundation of enterprising mind

Recently, I was chatting with people talking about the fact that entrepreneurship should be taught to youth. In our present fast moving environment, jobs security become an utopia, compared to the past, and where diploma is still useful but not necessarily a guarantee of employment. Change is a constant, and people have to change also, to move with the change. Nothing is definitively acquired.

Such circumstances make that some people are pushed to find alternatives by starting they own activity, or decide to look for new opportunities in order to move their skills and experiences forward. Such evolution, where people are driven to become more dynamic and not static, implies a dynamic mind, where you need to determine personal objectives and a related strategy. Life become a serial of projects, and the development of these projects is the result of an entrepreneurial process.

In such circumstances, it is obvious that youth has to be sensitize to the entrepreneurship, and the opportunities entrepreneurship can bring, but there are in my mind first important steps. Before to become an entrepreneur, we have to become free human being. The most important element to conquer our freedom is education. Education is the foundation of our life. The more our education will be broad, the more we will have opportunities to choose our own way, our own objectives. But education is not only the accumulation of knowledge and skills, it is also the capacity to make judgements, to develop curiosity, to develop the wish to learn, to develop an open mind. A lot of people remember the famous Steve Jobs speech at the Stanford university, where he was encouraging students to be curious, and to learn a lot of things, even we can’t know beforehand if it will be useful, but that afterwards, you can make a link between different things you learned, you can connect the “dots”. All these ingredients, combined with the wish to realize project, to reach objectives, are the basics of an enterprising mind. This is probably the most essential step before to encourage youth to entrepreneurship. The objective of an enterprising mind is not only the wish to build a business, but to build projects and to shape achievements. This achievements can be a Ph.D. Thesis, the writing of a book, or to follow theater courses and become an actor.

By developing an enterprising mind, you become the actor of your own life, where you can make your own choices, defining your objectives. The most important is to get the possibility to make choices. And this step is essential if you want to become an entrepreneur. As you know, an entrepreneur can meet failure. Experienced entrepreneurs will advice you to get alternative plans in case of failure. Education is the tool that will bring you alternative plans. The more your education will be broad, the more you will have alternative plans, not only in your business, but in your life too.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

November 10, 2012 at 22:43

What if I fail?

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In my previous article, I was talking about an entrepreneur I met recently who was building her first project as entrepreneur. We talked about the fact that the entrepreneurship is always a risk, and that the chances to succeed and to fail exist. The possibility to fail is probably a important reason making that some people don’t want to take the risk of entrepreneurship.

As Peter Drucker said, to become an entrepreneur, you don’t need an entrepreneur character, but character only. A character able to face risk, looking for change, and seeing change as an opportunity. But the ability to face risk is not enough, you have to manage it too. When you start a project presenting risks, have always an alternative plan, and measure the level of risk you will not go over. These two conditions will make that you will take more easily risks and be able to take appropriate actions if you don’t succeed.

The character is not only a condition making that people are scared to become entrepreneur. Failure is ofter considered as negative by people around you, and failing people have a guilty feeling. Failure has to be seen as a fact and something you can learn from. Such experience is not useless for many reasons:

  • By launching your own activity, you will have to do a lot of things and to manage things you were not used to manage. You will develop skills and maybe discover hidden talents. This talents and skills are open doors to new opportunities,
  • In an entrepreneurship project, you meet people to take advices, to contract specific expertise. You will meet new environments, you build a network, with people who bring you advice, and maybe new ideas. These new ideas or advice you acquired are feeding your knowledge and experience. You will can use them for other projects, or in other contexts.
  • By analyzing the reason of your failure, you will identify your mistakes, and to develop alternative solutions or scenarios. Such analyze make that you will be ready to restart other projects on a more appropriate way, without repeating the same mistakes,
  • Your experience of failure can make that you could be a valuable partner for future projects, build with other partners. Expertise is most of the time acquired by experience,and failure is a part of experience and contributes to bring added value,

By having this in mind, failure doesn’t mean that you are back to the start point. You are just on an new start point, with more skills, more experience, making that failure is probably not an absolute necessity, but an experience you can use as a raw material to build new and stronger projects. By do not deciding to take the risk to launch your own project, you will not fail but you will not succeed too. Remember this quote I don’t remember the author: “There is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur. You are a failed entrepreneur only when you quit. Until then, you’re simply not successful yet.”

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

January 11, 2012 at 21:35

An entrepreneur, an optimistic person?

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Philippe Gabilliet, professor in a MBA school and auteur of "L'éloge de l'optimisme"

The year 2011 is over, and traditionally, the new year is the time to build new projects, new resolutions. Nevertheless, if you red of heard to the news, it is not a secret that 2012 will probably be a difficult year (one more you will say), particularly in the euro zone. Some countries are already in economical recession. Such times are concerns for people, who are wondering if they will keep their job and will be able to pay the bills at month end. The entrepreneurs are concerned also by the crisis and the negative impact on their business, are facing lack of visibility, making the decision-making difficult. What can they do to face such difficulties? The entrepreneurs who have long term views know that they will face difficult times in their life, and are prepared to such situation. The only thing they have to do also is to stay optimistic. Really? You probably think that it sounds like a joke. What the fact to be optimistic can solve in such situation? Let us talk about this.

Few weeks ago, I was reading a book about the optimism, written by Philippe Gabilliet, a professor in a French MBA school. I can only recommend to everybody and not only entrepreneur , or people having a entrepreneur mind, to read this book. Here, I would like to talk more specifically about entrepreneurs, who seem to be by definition optimistic persons. Indeed, to become entrepreneur is always a risk. The success an entrepreneur can meet is proportional to the risk of failure he can meet too. Does it mean that he is not aware about the risk he can meet, by deciding to start a risky business? Let us consider that most of the time, he is aware of the risk, if he prepared seriously his project, and was well advised by mentors. By being aware about the risk, for which reason is he still motivated to build a project of business? This is a good point, and to explain this, we have to mention a distinction that professor Galilliet makes in his book.

We have to consider two kind of optimism, or pessimism. The is the optimism or pessimism of way, and the optimism and pessimism of goal. Each person can present these two characteristics.

  • The one who is an optimistic of way and an optimistic of goal is probably the one who is not conscious about the reality. His thoughts are “We will succeed and it will be easy.”
  • The one who is a pessimistic of way and pessimistic of goal, is the most negative person of the four we can define here. He thinks that “It will be difficult, and finally, we will not succeed”. Such person has not to become an entrepreneur. He has the certitude to fail.
  • The one who is a optimistic of way and a pessimistic of goal. For professor Gabilliet, this is the most strange attitude we can find. Such person thinks that “We will probably not succeed , but he will have learned something”. Interesting, but does such person believe to the pursued goal, or does he favor his own interests?
  • The one who is a pessimistic of way and an optimistic of goal, is probably the most conscious of the difficulties. He is convinced that “We will succeed, but it will be not easy at all”.

The pessimistic of way and optimistic of goal is certainly the most prepared person to the entrepreneurs life. He is aware about the difficulties he will face. Despite the fact that he is an optimistic of goal, he is yet aware that he could fail too. The question is how can he still stay motivated, in front of a potentiality to fail? The optimistic is somebody who can use the failure as a raw material to learn something and to develop other alternatives, strategies, to reach the goal he assigned to himself. Failure is an element that will feed his knowledge base and that will give him the resources to anticipate. I was speaking recently with an entrepreneur who was building her first project. She was aware about the potentiality to fail, but she told me that such experience is an opportunity to meet people, and to learn a lot of things you can use for other future projects. An optimistic will consider the positive side of things and to use it to move forward.

In my mind, entrepreneurs are optimistic persons. There are persons who believe to that famous quote “We didn’t know it was impossible, so we did it”. To become an entrepreneur is always a risk, and if they were no optimistic persons like entrepreneurs, most of the inventions around us would not exist. If you move 30 years back, and that we told you the future inventions that would exist today, a lot of people would consider you as crazy. But optimistic entrepreneurs who probably met failures in their life, realized these inventions, like the web, the solar airplane “Solar Impulse”, etc..

As conclusion, I would say that even if times are difficult, you can always move forward with your creativity and your optimism, two key components who will gain more and more value in the future.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

January 7, 2012 at 18:21

Never too late.

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Susan Boyle, she dreamed the dream..and the dream became reality.

Few days ago, I was reading this nice quote: You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. It made me think that often, we heard people telling the opposite. I am too old to do this or this. Is the reason of such thought the consequence of the way our society is considering life, and making believe us that there is only this way to see life?

The most common way to see life, is a life divided in three parts: the time we are going to school, the time we are working, and the time we are retired. The society try to make us believe that at a certain time, our life is changing and that at a certain moment, we have to change our activities, we can do certain things and we can not do other things anymore. It is of course, a good idea to change, to move to new activities, but age has not to be the reason of this, but our motivation to move to another goal.

Mark Twain said: “Age is a question of mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” . I was remembering that quote, when somebody talked me about a person she was following on Twitter who was 92 years old. I had a look to her profile, and I liked the comment she put on her profile: “I am 92 years..young!” . What wonderful words, but what an example also to prove it is never to late to discover new things, and in the present case, to use social medias and technologies. As I mentioned earlier, age is not the criteria to do an activity, but the motivation.

The motivation is driven by goals. I already mentioned that point at several times in previous postings: we need always to have a goal. By having successive goals in your live, you put another dimension in your life. You do not build your life in three part, I mean school, work and retirement, but you build your life as a range of goals, initiating life projects. You do not see life anymore as a linear process, but as the way taken by a sailing boat, determined by the winds and the tides. The winds and the tides are here your feelings, your inspiration, your wish to face new challenges, to find new passions. You do not switch from school to work and to retirement, you move from an activity to another. And by having activities, goals, you become the actor of your own life.

It is never too late to start new projects and you can read some testimonials about people who moved from an activity to another, in their professional or in their private life. Most of them learned a lot of such experience, discovered new interests and hide talents. I remember a manager of an important group of supermarket in Belgium who left the company when he was 55 years old and started studies in philosophy. He did a PhD, and was telling in a magazine that he would have regrets if he had not move to this new life. It was of course a change in his life, he did not earn the money he was earning before, but the satisfaction was there, and it was the most important to his eyes. Lets talk about Susan Boyle, this English woman who started a singer career after participating to the television broadcast “Britain’s Got Talent”. The song she song was named “I dreamed the dream”. She realized it. By acquiring knowledge and competences by moving to new activities, by using and developing a curious mind, by trying to more your limit foreward, you open new doors, doors to your freedom. As mentioned before, you build a non-linear life, because you build different projects, but you build also good memories. These projects, these memories are monotony breakers. You have the feeling to have a rich life, and a feeling of wellness to see all the achievements you did.

A key factor is of course a good health. Some studies showed that people having activities were in better psychical and physical health. And even if you are not in a perfect health condition, you have always the choice to do things following your own rhythm and capabilities. As member of the board of a small non-profit organization, I often meet people investing their time as volunteer. This activity is important for these people. Some of them, can face difficult time in their life, and such activity allows them to have social contacts, to have not the feeling to be alone. They have a positive feeling by doing something useful and rewarding.

It is never to late to start a new project or to dream to another dream. Our world is moving, we can continue to move with the times, and so, to stay actors of our society, of our environment. We can continue to interact with other people through several projects, several dreams. We can not imagine a society without group of people sharing same interests. Each of us, we have to stay actors, actors of the society, but first the actors of our own life. It is probably what makes the difference between to be and to exist.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

July 11, 2011 at 22:38

The “Working” board

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Board of directors of a non-profit organization

Few days ago, I was publishing a question on a LinkedIn forum about experience as volunteer. One of the people who answered to that question talked about his experience, by mentioning the fact that he was member of the “working” board of directors. He was meaning of course that he was not there because it is smart to have such title, but he was contributing effectively to the management and operations of the non-profit organization.

I really like this concept and the meaning of “working” board, because as member of the board of two different non-profit organizations, I noticed two kind of directors. There are directors who were probably invited to join the board by other directors who are friends, and they are very proud to acquire a title, but they have not specific competences of real management background. There are other directors who have a specific competence contributing effectively to the organization processes.

I already mentioned in a previous post the situation of a non-profit organization who received some years ago an important donation. The association was by the time wrongly advised by the bank and they lost a lot of money in their investment. But what I noticed also in their accounts during one year, was the fact there had important operational losses and that nobody reacted during the year about that. When they received the donation, they decided to hire people, but the budget was not in balance at all. What happened a day, is that there were obliged to fire people, and each member of the board rejected the responsibility of such disaster to the other member of the board. Such situations allow to conclude that these people were totally incompetent, and did not want to face their responsibilities and take difficult decisions when needed, to avoid to get in trouble with the other directors. Such disaster is the result of non-decision, as I was writing in a previous post.

Let us talk about the other type of directors. These people are joining the board of a non-profit organization because they have specific competences, and they can help to implement solutions and improve processes in the organization. Competences are really important and are an added value when the organizations have a important and critical size. As you know, the more a project is important, the more the risk to fail is high, and the more experienced people are needed. In an organization where you have around ten people on payroll and fifty volunteers, like the one I am director of, you are definitively in a small enterprise. Like in commercial companies, structure and management are essential and are the key factors of success. The goal of a non-profit organization is probably different than the one of a commercial organization, but management and strategy are essential in both case to reach the assigned goal and to sustain the activities.

This second category of directors is the most useful, specially when non-profit organization are subsidized with public money. They have to guarantee the good usage of the allocated funds in order to make a successful project and to reach the assigned goal, and will be able to do it. This is the mission of a “working” board.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

June 8, 2011 at 22:25

A technological symbol for a better future.

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Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the two founders of the Solar Impulse project.

On Friday may 13th 2011, the experimental solar energy airplane, Solar Impulse, was starting his first transnational travel, taking off from Payerne in Switzerland, and landing on the Brussels Airport, 13 hours later. Solar Impulse, is the result of a project initiated by Bertrand Piccard, doctor and aeronaut. “The goal of such experimental project is to encourage political decision makers to adopt more ambitious policies in energy matters.” said Bertrand Picard. He pleaded for a change of mind in order to encourage people to use green and renewable energies, and to stop to waste fossil energies.

This nice technological project is in my mind a symbol for different reasons.

  • This solar airplane is an evidence that we can always move the limit forward, and here more specifically the limits of research and development. During this first transnational flight between Switzerland and Belgium, the pilot, André Borschberg, the pilot and CEO of the project, mentioned that the solar cells of the airplane captured more energy than the airplane needed during this travel. This is probably the first time that a transportation mode is acquiring or “producing” more energy than he uses. It is a revolutionary invention, giving opportunities to other project developments.
  • This project contributes to build a better world on the ecological level. By using renewable energies, this technology contributes to preserve the natural resources. As we know, natural resources capacities are not unlimited, and we are using more resources than the world is producing. By using renewable or green energies like solar and wind energies, we contribute to preserve our environment, to reduce pollution and preserve ecosystems.
  • These renewable energies can have a positive impact on the economy. The usage of fossil energies will become more and more expensive as the costs of extractions are increasing. The cost increase of fossil energies has a negative impact on the margins of the companies. The usage of renewable energies could have a positive impact on the profitability of the companies, and could ensure the sustainability of their activity by decreasing their dependency to the fossil energies.
  • The human begin is able to do the best. This solar energy airplane is the result of efforts, of people working together on a project contributing positively to the development of the usage of renewable energies. This project is the result of a wonderful team work, where each people dedicated efforts to contribute to the success of such beautiful project, initiated by Bertrand Picard. I remember when Solar Impulse did his first experimental flight, Bertrand Piccard was crying because he was so happy to see the concretization of his dream, and we could imagine that this day was so rewarding for him but also for all the team working on this project.
  • This project is a nice example of entrepreneurship. This project concretization is a wonderful incentive to promote entrepreneurship. It shows that dreams can be transformed into reality, and that by joining competences within a team and with hard work, it is always or very often possible to reach objectives. And if such project does not succeed on the first trial, we can always learn from the different steps we cross over. Each experience provides a useful feedback.

These are a few reasons making me think that Solar Impulse is a symbolic invention, a symbolic project. And if you have a look to the website of the project, you will notice a wonderful Jules Verne’s quote that the Solar Impulse illustrates very well: “All that is impossible remains to be achieved.”

Visit the website of this wonderful project: http://www.solarimpulse.com/

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

May 17, 2011 at 21:57