HFC Uganda: Going out of business

Yep. That’s right. I’ve tried too hard to sustain our training center in Uganda by making money in Uganda, and it’s just not working. We’ve trained over 1,000 students. We’ve seen student go from no computer experience to landing very well-paying jobs because of their new found IT skills. We know our training is making a difference, but we are simply not making ends meet.

The harder we try to float our expenses, the more our center becomes like a business. Most businesses are cut-throat, and I hate to see us playing that game, investing our time and energy in stuff that really shouldn’t matter. Our goal is to help people, not to make money.

So, I’m taking a big gamble, and I’m changing the rules. We will no longer operate as a business. I want to provide our training for free, and I’m hoping that outside donors will step in to take care of our expenses so we can just focus training people.

My plan is straight-forward. If you come in the door with a letter proving that you’re working for a non-profit, a community-based organization, the police or the like, you train for free. If you really want to learn but you aren’t working with a group that’s committed to positive change, we’ll host a list of vetted organizations that accept volunteers. For every hour you volunteer with them, you receive an hour of free training with us. This connection between students and respected organizations ensures our program has the deepest possible impact on the community.

My initial goal is to fill every seat in the center every single hour we’re open. There may be opportunities for profit later (selling guaranteed seating passes, closing the center one day a week to “rent” slots to entire school classes, etc) but I want our focus to be on training initially and we’ll see what challenges surface and address them.

I know this can work and it will have a massive impact on the community, but it will take action on the part of you, our donors and supporters. Whether you’re donating directly, approaching your company to garner their support or just spreading the word, I can’t do this without you.

Financial details: Each month we need UGX 700,000 ($250) for rent, UGX 249,000 ($89) for physical and electronic security and  UGX 1,250,000 ($446) a month for salaries, utilities and other operating expenses such as paper, staff food, etc. This comes to $9420 a year, $785 a month, or $196.25 a week. Right now, the dollar is VERY strong, and these prices are much lower that they were 6 months ago. In six months, the exchange rate could flip-flop again, leaving us with higher expense numbers, but that’s where it is right now.

I have drained our account to pay the rent for the next 6 months. At the end of those six months, if nothing comes in, we’re finished. I’m open to suggestions, but based on the past two years worth of experience on the ground, this is by far the best way forward.

One last thing. Because of our switch to a free operating model, I’m open to enforcing some “strings” attached to our students. For example, I think it’s reasonable for students to fill out a bio and questionnaire before taking classes. I think it’s reasonable for them to fill out progress reports and things of this nature. Basically, I’m open to ideas about how students can keep donors in the loop about where they’re from, how they’re progressing and where they’re headed, that sort of thing. Please send me your suggestions. As a donor, what would make you feel most connected? What would convince you that your manoey has been well spent? What would you like to see? I’m also open to other wacky ideas, like selling advertising space for local businesses on our machines, if we can figure out the technology to make that work. Send me whatever ideas you have.

Thanks in advance for your continued support. I still believe in what we’re doing here, despite the many setbacks, and I’m excited to see where this next chapter takes us. I hope it won’t be our last.

2011-08-31T17:30:41+00:00 August 31,2011|Computer Training Center, Hackers For Charity|