Special Panel: "Money Meets Ideas"
Chaired by Albert Fischer (The Netherlands), this panel discussed the issue of raising money to fund EE projects. Panelists were Jacomine Ravensbergen (The Netherlands), Daphne de Rebello (France), Fred Matser (The Netherlands), and Ibrahim Kerdani (Egypt).
What Do Donors Look For?
At the outset, Fischer listed four criteria that donors look for when considering funding a project: people, market, product, and return for their investment. "People are the first consideration," Fischer stated. Things that donors will want to know about the people involved in the project include their track record, the network they've developed, their personalities, and how they function as a team. It doesn't all have to be perfect. I would want a team that is capable of seeing where they lack things. The second donors look for is the market. Specifically, said Fischer, "what is the size, who are you trying to reach, what are barriers to entry, and what is the growth rate?" Other areas donors might be interested in are the unique nature of your project and how easily other people can do the same project. The third criterion is the product, the service, or the idea. Donors need to know: Is it unique, is there a demand for it, and which problem is the project intended it solve. Finally, donors are interested in return on their investment. "They're interested in a financial return, of course," noted Fischer, but also in the social and environmental aspects of their investment. Having set the basic structure for the debate, Fischer added: "An investment decision is something you do based on your gut feeling. You will go through the list to consider those criteria, but in the long run you ask yourself: do I love this project, is the spark there? Almost backwards you interpret the criteria." A good project will do both, he said. A good project will "answer the criteria, but it will also deliver that spark."
Matser, director of Sofam Beheer bv, a management and holding company in The Netherlands, also emphasized the importance of this gut feeling for success, both for the project team and for the donor. He advised participants who are seeking funding to have faith in their projects and to speak to individuals, not bureaucracies. In this way, he said, one would be able to "open someone's heart," which may lead to financial support.
Both Donors and Projects Should Benefit
According to Ravensbergen, Program Officer at the Health Research and Development Council, one should not avoid bureaucracies. Rather, she advised participants to seek alliances with organizations that have experience with funding similar projects. The goal should be a benefit for projects as well as donors and that expected returns on investments should be emphasized. The way to go with a bureaucracy, said Ravensbergen, is to identify the specific goals and aims of that organization that you can connect to: "Establishing an alliance will help you get through a bureaucracy. It also helps you to parallel your project as tight as you can to the objectives of a specific program of that organization. Knowing their funding criteria and objectives is the key. "
EE Projects Should Create Opportunities in the Commercial Sector
Kerdani, of UNICEF, Egypt, mentioned fundraising activities as a possible alternative. He also said that EE projects today tend to avoid the commercial sector, and that the focus should shift to ways to create opportunities for the commercial viability of EE projects. Participants agreed that EE practitioners underestimate the importance of commerce. For EE to sustain itself, they said, fundraisers need to become more business-oriented. In many countries, participants said that profit connected to EE is still a taboo. Annie Coleman (USA) stated that EE can be a valuable commercial commodity, but that it isn't marketed in the way other commodities are marketed. Coleman said that she believes there is a market sector that is interested in EE, as long as it is commercially viable. "Commercial viability can play an important role in creating sustainability for EE," said Coleman. Kerdani said to believe that airtime on television is a key to commercial success for EE, and that the EE field should aim to buy television time in the same way big entertainment companies do this, in order to disseminate their projects well.
There were objections to this philosophy. Garth Japhet (South Africa) said that he was opposed to the idea that EE can compete with commercial entertainment. "I don't think that you can make a proper EE project, with a properly worked out research design, for the equivalent amount of money that you would need to make just a soap opera drama." Japhet did say that EE would be able to move to greater commercial viability in terms of cost recovery if the project became popular for large audiences. In such cases, there is commercial viability plus the added aspect of being socially responsible.
The Use of Celebrities to Encourage Commercial Success
De Rebello, of UNESCO, Paris, suggested that an increase of celebrities in EE programs might foster greater commercial success. She mentioned the Philippines, where popular singers were recruited to sing about adolescent reproductive health. These songs became commercial hits, maybe even more so because the performers were, because of their age and image, in a way, members of the target group, so the intended target audience could easily identify with them. Many companies, suggested deRebello, would more readily affiliate with programs that included celebrities. Kerdani added that project planners should involve TV producers in the planning phases of projects as early as possible.
According to Martine Bouman (The Netherlands), this presents special problems in the area of collaboration: "Media professionals often act like peacocks, displaying their feathers so that they can both be admired and exert power and thus stay in charge of the production process. On the other hand, EE professionals often resemble turtles: solid and trustworthy, but not quick in assimilating new and challenging developments. Involving media professionals in the planning phases of your projects has to be managed very carefully. The quality of an EE program depends largely on the quality of the collaboration process."
Research and Development
Fundraising should focus on more than just the product, said Bouman. She agreed with Japhet and warned that EE is not an ordinary commercial commodity, because the "production costs" are higher: "What EE professionals need is a research and development department or position. We try to convince sponsors that EE is valuable and profitable, but the best we can provide, in reality, is some sort of risk management. Especially, the planning stage of EE does not imply a mere choice for entertainment or education, but for something that is all new. Every big company has a Research and Development department that spends a lot of money on tryouts, but there is no one who can give us 'tryout' money. We always have to prove our best in the first shot. If we would have more time and budget to experiment," Bouman said, "we could overcome the intrinsic dilemmas we face when we develop EE products."
Fischer again emphasized the importance of ownership for sponsors: "From a venture capital point of view, an investor is putting his money forward, and he likes to buy something." Experiments do not have to be taboo, he said, as long as it is clear what the return on that particular investment will be. Fischer suggested creating an entity of which the investor can be a shareholder. "They like to buy something and say: 'This building is partially mine. ' That's the feeling you should sell."
Pedro Suarez Vertiz (Peru) suggested that EE products should be promoted on a much larger scale, using marketing techniques such as those employed by the pop music industry: "In arts such as painting, sculpture, dance, and literature, it's really hard to think of commercial products, at first. EE products are not commercial either, at first glance." Vertiz said that the quality of an artist is something that we know from the magazines reviewing the work, and from the awards he artist receives. When the artist becomes a celebrity, Vertiz said, "it's an honor for the sponsors to sponsor that artist." He then suggested starting a campaign to recognize high quality EE-products. He cited the Latin Grammy Awards as an example of how to do this: Emilio Estefan helped to create the Latin Grammy Awards to promote Latin artists, and the Latin Grammy's now are very important for the artist's success. "We all know it's a show," Vertiz said, "but it works: people recognize the product because it received an important award." He cautioned that commercializing EE might destroy the essence of the EE products, but if awards were given, then sponsors might be more likely to become involved with the EE projects.