Social Enterprise: Friends International
Social Entrepreneur(s): Sèbastien Marot
Sector(s): Youth, Education, Health, Enterprise Development
Location(s): Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Honduras, Mexico, Egypt, Myanmar
Combine for-profit and non-profit arms under one roof to provide a comprehensive set of services for young people.
The Innovation Explained
Friends-International provides social and educational services to protect, educate and equip marginalized children and youth in urban areas. These deeply vulnerable young people are sometimes negatively referred to as “street children” and may be homeless, orphans, victims of sexual or physical abuse or have substance abuse problems. “It’s sometimes more expedient to round up homeless youth begging on the streets and place them in juvenile detention centres away from the public eye,” said Sèbastien Marot. “So we try to convince governments that they can improve their public image and mitigate social unrest by investing in this population and getting them into jobs.”
In Cambodia, where Friends-International has a 19-year history, the organization is actively influencing policy, such as designing a five-year plan for the government to foster family cohesion. Each time Friends-International expands its operations to a new country, it leverages allies who enjoy strong local reputations, such as multilateral agencies, embassies and funding entities, to identify a strategic point of entry within the national or municipal government. The Ministries of Social Affairs and Tourism are natural partners, for example. “It’s critical to establish an institutionalized partnership with the government so that we’re not dependent one high-profile person who may leave office,” said Marot.
Friends International runs several specific interventions. Their education programme helps younger children catch up and mainstream back into public school. For older youth, they provide substance abuse counselling, vocational training, life skills workshops and job placement services. The organization also runs several social businesses, including restaurants, to give youth on-the-job training and provide a stepping stone to a regular job. In the growing hospitality sector, Friends-International works with many hotels and tourism companies to promote socially responsible tourism and encourages them to accept training graduates into entry-level positions.
Today, Friends-International’s programmes impact 60,000 marginalized children and youth, as well as their families, every year. Through its CYTI Alliance and ChildSafe initiative with other international NGOs and government organizations, Friends-International disseminates best practices and creates child protection networks through local and international campaigns.
Why This Matters
There are over 500 million marginalized children and youth in urban areas worldwide due to migration, unemployment, domestic abuse, substance abuse, child trafficking and/or deceased parents. Without sustainable, scalable interventions to help these young people get their lives back and reintegrate into society, they will continue to weigh negatively on public security, economic development and social welfare systems. The Friends-International model leverages contributions from government, civil society and businesses to deliver services and invest in marginalized young people so they become functional and productive members of society.
Align your organization with the national goals of the country in which you are operating. “Government partners can learn from your organization, become your partners and serve as a resource through which you can channel your programmes,” said Marot. “Being aligned doesn’t mean being in agreement about everything. You’re not there to implement their policy. You’re there to influence it in a better way. It’s extremely difficult to be effective if you’re moving in direct opposition to government planning priorities.”
Give credit freely. Government agencies are prominently credited in Friends-International’s annual reports, publications, posters and signage, and key government officials are invited to co-chair the organization’s high-profile events and meetings. “Gestures like these make it so much easier to build trust with government partners,” said Marot.