The NGO and the social enterprise work differently in terms of their business model. James chose the social enterprise and discusses Rolling Books’ income sources.
James: Why did I choose a social enterprise and what is the difference between that of a NGO [non-governmental organization] and a social enterprise? The work I am doing now is related to the work I did before at Oxfam, especially in the context of poverty alleviation, but there is a vision I have for social enterprise. In NGO they use fundraising as their business model, meaning people donate money, but a social enterprise is not going to rely on donations, because there has to be a business model. The logic is, when I do this business, I also have a social good. I think this concept of a social enterprise compared to that of the NGO fundraising model, is worth exploring. Because in a social enterprise, you hope that you can maintain under conditions in which you have no funds, you can run your business, and this business can contribute to social good. Social enterprise is the new trend, although we are still focused on NGOs right now. If we are able to change the trend to focus on social enterprise, then instead we will explore more possibilities and work more dynamically to change or alleviate the problems in society. I think concept-wise, this is why I want to do social enterprise. This is a very long-term process, because I am still receiving a lot of funding, and you know that if I receive funding it’s very difficult to say that this is a social enterprise because besides government funding, other foundations give us money to let us work.
Every time I receive funding, I hope that the funding will slowly allow me to run a sustainable business. Yes, we are receiving a lot of funding at this stage, but hopefully this business will sustain itself, so that we don’t need to depend on funding or on the government in the future. This will be more of a long-term goal. I could have opened an NGO, it’s very easy to do so, but I have chosen a social enterprise.
Rolling Books has very income streams. One is with activities in school. In schools, we are their service providers: they may need some event in some space, and we will do activities in that space. There will be some revenue there. There will be also some revenue from the online bookstore, but only very little. The other source of revenue is the parent-children activities which we can’t do these months because of the protests and COVID-19. We can make money from parent-children activities. For parents who can pay for these activities, they may pay to participate in these events. Sometimes in a guided tour, we have 15 quotas, and we may have something like 13 quotas are fee-paying and 2 other quotas would be opened for those from underprivileged families. This is a very classic way: we have done this before, and we can do this in the future.
We also do events at shopping malls. For example, in one shopping mall for a weekend, I was responsible for the market for books and there was also a stage there, and in the three days I would be on the stage and we would host different activities. Generally, we would be telling stories, and sometimes we would have clowns telling stories, sometimes some people would use music to relate to stories. Whatever that is related to reading, we put it on stage. That’s another form of service offering. In some cases, we have received funding and we can work at community centers for free. Honestly, this is a very old-fashioned business model. Very simply, the definition of social enterprise is very flexible; if I was to do something for social good, it would be recognized as a social enterprise, because if I say to people that we do reading promotion, then we can very naturally claim we are a social enterprise. Of course, in the background, there are some regulations but that we won’t go through with so much detail.