The big news from our perspective is that my Shuttleworth Foundation (SF) Fellowship ended at the end of February 2012. A particularly exciting feature of SF Fellowships is that Fellows have the opportunity to take projects, and the associated intellectual property, with them when they leave. I had the opportunity to take Siyavula and do something more with it.
In partnership with Neels van der Westhuizen, we started the process of setting Siyavula “the project” up as Siyavula Education (Pty) Ltd. before the end of my Fellowship, and the company was actually formed in December 2011. Dr Carl Scheffler joined us early in 2012 as a partner in running the company which meant that we spun out of the Shuttleworth Foundation, with SF and the three of us holding shares.
We secured an investor in PSG Financial Services and have established Siyavula Education as a social enterprise. We work at the intersection of community, openness and technology in the education sector.
What is and why do we call ourselves a social enterprise?
Just claiming to be a social enterprise doesn’t really tell anyone much about the company. In South Africa a social enterprise isn’t a defined legal entity with any specific rules.
Taken from Wikipedia: “A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximising profits for external shareholders. Social enterprises can be structured as a for-profit or non-profit, and may take the form of a co-operative, mutual organization, a social business, or a charity organization.”
In the case of Siyavula we are a for-profit company so this begs the question: how do we justify calling ourselves a social enterprise?
- work in education;
- make quality learning resources and products available to all learners;
- make our resources openly available; and
- feed back into other social investment projects through the Shuttleworth Foundation.
We work in the school sector in South Africa. Regardless of the country, working to help schools, educators and learners produce or undergo the best learning experience is an investment in the future. With the significant social challenges facing South Africa, any long-term solution to those challenges will have to be built on a solid education system.
By working in this sector we intend to add value to the lives of all South Africans. This might seem to be a contentious claim as many education service providers only provide solutions that target the top 10% of schools (the most lucrative segment of the market).
Focus on taking quality products to the total market
We believe that we can add significant value to all learners in the country by shifting our focus from expensive products aimed at the high-end schools, to using technology to effectively deliver a quality experience that encompasses all learners, from the very high-end down to massively under-resourced schools.
To this end we deliver our content and services as accessibly as possible. Our textbooks have been distributed widely in hard copy, the PDF files are available for anyone to print, they are free to read on the web, and free to read on mobile phones and Mxit. This ensures that the content is as widely accessible as possible without requiring new devices to be delivered. Mobile phone penetration is extremely high in South Africa providing the perfect solution for immediate content delivery.
The content is openly-licensed which has a number of benefits. Open copyright licences are licences that grant freedoms instead of imposing restrictions. Our content is released under an open copyright licence called the By-Attribution licence which is one of the licences developed by Creative Commons.
One of the simplest implications being that it allows other partners to help deliver it using similar or more innovative methods – without any concerns over copyright infringement (for example Paperight). Anybody could print books for schools without requiring permission.
Much more powerful is the fact that organisations or educators (or even learners) are able to legally, adapt, enhance and remix the content for their own specific needs. This is the long-term benefit of open-licensing, feeding an education ecosystem in a way that allows stakeholders to build on content and enrich and customise the learning experience, iteratively and collaboratively.
We collaborate closely with communities that want to help us co-create, enhance or adapt resources. This is mostly in the educational resources space, but not exclusively. We also work with opensource software communities. We want to be an equal partner in the resource creation process where possible. This ensures that our efforts are aligned with the needs of educators and that we maximise the exchange of information and best practise.
Everything that is done with, by or for the community is released under the appropriate type of open licence. In fact, releasing things openly is written into our shareholders’ agreement.
Shuttleworth Foundation Ownership
Siyavula has the Shuttleworth Foundation as a significant shareholder. The Foundation provides oversight into our activities and also benefits from Siyavula’s financial success. This ensures that our success feeds into the innovative social investment model driven by the Foundation, the same model that helped make Siyavula possible in the first place.
When you put all of that together, we’re quite confident in labelling ourselves a social enterprise.