Mozaik was founded in 2002 but we will start this story in retrospection, in year 2012. At that time, at the age of 10, we were enjoying funding stability and building local communities through grant funding and advisory support to civic initiatives of public interest throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). We were helping address community problems while building trust and strengthening social cohesion in communities by empowering people to initiate joint actions, mobilize local resources and bridge local and ethnic differences.That year, through the YouthBank Program alone, we supported 326 community-driven projects with more and more local partners and volunteers mobilized each year. Around this time we started to strategically think about sustainability of Mozaik as a local institution that is here to stay after foreign donor funding is over and, as part of our quest for sustainability, started experimenting with an Annual CSR Award DOBRO and social/impact businesses that we registered as separate businesses.
We made many mistakes and learned from them. Despite sometimes very painful lessons, our honesty and extraordinary commitment caught attention of important international organizations. One of them was the World Economic Forum and its sister organization, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, who awarded Mozaik’s director with the title of Social Entrepreneur of the year in Central and Eastern Europe.
All this time, Mozaik teams worked tirelessly to implement several large multi-year projects funded by large organizations such as USAID, EU, World Bank and others. Work was well organized across widely defined and autonomous programs, while our only central function, finance and administration, supported each project separately. This organization was partially a results of donor evaluations which were limited to specific projects and which were primarily concerned with project outputs as these were straightforward and easy to measure.
At the time, we were highly regarded by donors and local peers. But in the back of our mind we feared that we were starting to show symptoms of an invisible pandemic which affected many non-profits in the world, the projectitis. This sickness affects organizations that are excellent fundraisers but become complacent – take only those risks necessary to win contracts, focus primarily on keeping the donors happy while investing no or little time and efforts to root themselves in local communities and focus on systemic changes – those that go beyond project funding, work collectively across sectors and can actually be measured at the level of outcomes, or even impact.
Emergence of Mozaik’s 10-year strategy
As many other non-profits, we tried to remain independent of donors and were committed to our own mission. But life was much easier without challenging donors in strategic areas. Initial symptoms of Projectitis threatened to develop into a full disease, to turn Mozaik into a fully donor-driven organization. As we further learned about systemic change, we realized how much more an organization can do if committed to measurable impact beyond donor funding cycles.
All this time and despite the odds, the entrepreneurial energy in Mozaik kept smoldering in the background. The smoke turned into fire a few years later, in October 2012, when our Director returned from one of executive programs for Schwab social entrepreneurs at the Harvard Business School. Immediately after, we convened the first of many strategic meetings that followed. We did not really know what the outcome will be and, at that time, did not know what sacrifices it will require of us.
Strategic thinking was initiated by critically assessing the impact we were having on BiH to that date. The deliberations continued over a very simple question: Why do we exist? What measurable and positive impact can we achieve in our country and the region? How much time do we need to achieve systemic change, regardless of donor funding cycles?
Over 3 years, and thanks to C.S. Mott general purpose grant from where we drew the luxury to stop and re-think, by the end of 2014, after several iterations, the search for Why led us to crafting our impact statement.
This sentence became the most important strategic definition of Mozaik Foundation which now was the guiding star for the rest of our strategic planning.
Once we clearly understood (1) Why we exist and (2) What impact we want to achieve, we slowly and methodically moved into the How. It required courage to critically re-evaluate all ongoing projects and fill in any existing programmatic gaps.
Finally, after many years of work, our Impact Management Matrix was completed. This documents, with the impact statement on its top, clearly outlines the Mission (in orange) and Sustainability (in green) results, with corresponding KPIs.
(Please click on the photo below to access the readable PDF version. The logic behind the Matrix is a whole other story. If you want to learn more about underlying principles of our Strategy, we recommend that you watch the video next to it.)
Now, let’s take a look at the programs, which are located below the Invisible Line of Control (marked in blue in the top right corner and explained in detail in the video).
The YouthBank Program, which we started in 2008, remained and re-emerged in our new strategy as the key vehicle for youth empowerment (Mission Result 2). It, however, underwent a number of changes and innovations, all in efforts to ensure total transparency, improve user experience, and transfer key decision-making powers away from Mozaik and partnering local governments to young people and local communities.
But the YouthBank alone was not going to make it. Our impact statement required much more systemic thinking and we needed to complement this program with new programs that will act in synergy and give youth more diverse but smartly coordinated system of support. This is how the Startup Studio Program came to life. It provides young women and men, empowered through YouthBank or elsewhere, with opportunities for personal growth and support for impact business development and startup. (Mission Result 3).
However, during the pilot phase in 2015, we realized that more needs to be done to motivate youth to engage in community work and entrepreneurship. After all, the Global Entrepreneurship Index lists BiH as the least entrepreneurial country in Europe. To overcome this challenge, we created the first online community with an aim to bring all youth and opportunities for youth entrepreneurs and activists to one digital space. This how lonac.pro community came to life, our third strategic program (Mission Result 1).
If we were to compare these three programs with a pyramid, lonac.pro represents the base, where all youth are exposed to honest opportunities for professional development. YouthBank is an essential component of this ecosystem, where youth is empowered through support for hundreds of youth-driven community projects each year. The Startup Studio continues these efforts with a number of opportunities that help youth develop market skills and competencies necessary to succeed in the demanding BiH market, while providing mentorship support, grant funding, equity investments etc. to youth. Finally, success stories are fed back into the lonac.pro community to motivate more youth and partners to engage.
Please see Results for the most recent update of our KPIs, as indicated in the Impact Management Matrix.
The valley of death – a surprise that nearly killed us
As you read these lines, it might appear to you that everything was smooth as butter. Actually, it was all but that. As we moved away from our old project-focused approach to the impact-focused approach, our fundraising efforts faced an increasing challenge: finding financial partners willing to support this innovative but highly risky endeavor.
We pursued several funding opportunities where innovation was required… we invested a lot of time in writing exciting and innovative project proposals and… failed! Large donors were unwilling to support our grand plan as the risks were too great and evidence of necessary organizational capacity could not be demonstrated at the time.
On the side note: here we learned that donors sometimes invite innovations but do not fund innovative projects because their selection criteria and programmatic staff are ill prepared to recognize and work with high-impact and high-risk projects. But this is a whole other story which we will tell another time…
In the following years, from 2015 to 2017, we remained true to our new strategy and closed all non-strategic projects (including multi-million $ projects). As you could imagine, fundraising failures and intentionally discontinued contracts quickly led to liquidity problems. Workload, uncertainty and stress levels increased to unsustainable levels.
It hit us really hard. Some members of the team, especially those with children, left Mozaik in search for more stable jobs. Our CFO raised the red flag and demanded for more proposals to be prepared, no matter the Matrix. Her logic was that no impact can be achieved if the organization runs out of funding.
And she was right. This is the moment when we had to decide: do we go back to the project mindset (a way preferred by most donors in the world because) and obtain funding which will take us away from our strategy, or stay true to our strategy and hope for a miracle?
Fortunately, our contributions and years-long work in international networks, such as the European Foundation Centre (EFC) and European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) rewarded us with recognition among private donors. This led to real partnerships with private foundations and individuals. We were saved by the C.S. Mott Foundation, Bosch Foundation, local municipalities, Unicredit and Zeit Foundations, Medicore Foundation, the European Fund for Southeast Europe, US Deloitte D2i Program, as well as one other European private foundation and one American private citizen that prefer to remain anonymous.
They actually liked the systemic thinking and commitment, despite the risks. The Bosch Foundation invited us to Stuttgart to share our innovative approach with their board and team. This confirmed our belief that we were on the right track, despite difficulties.
Over the years, as initial evidences of success emerged, more organizations and institutions got interested. The Swiss government was the first governmental agency to recognize the systemic approach and provide 4+4 years of support. The Swedish government joined right after. (Fun fact: Swiss and Swedish are the two most innovative countries in the world.) Other donors joined a bit later, some with clear interest in systemic change and some simply funded our “projects”, without showing any interest in the strategy.
What we survived here is something that in the startup sector is called the valley of death. It is best described by the U curve on the visual below. Despite the lack of funding, we had to meet our KPIs. We had to do more with less funding. It was everything but smooth as butter.
The positive side of year-long struggle
The struggle to survive and remain true to our 10-year strategy shaped who we are today. It forced us to innovate and helped us become a better organization, deeply rooted in communities with numerous partnerships in the private, public and NGO sector.
Today, lessons learned are almost immediately incorporated back into strategy and innovation is encouraged across the entire organization. We digitalized and became paperless even before the Coronavirus Pandemic and were able to respond to these challenges almost immediately.
Our teams often say to newcomer that “in Mozaik the only constant is change” which describes our willingness to evolve with new approaches we adopt (such as Flow Efficiency by Niklas Modig and others) and promote learning and collective thinking inside and outside Mozaik.
As we are approaching the half of our strategy, all teams are meeting their KPIs while more and more partners join in collective efforts to help youth achieve their full potential and become role-models for other youth and the society.
Internationally, we still remain active with the WEF & Schwab Foundation, EFC and EVPA, but we also helped co-found Catalyst2030, a global movement of social entrepreneurs and social innovators from all sectors who share the common goal of creating innovative, people-centric approaches to attain the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Finally, let us conclude the story by thanking to all of you that helped us reach this point – without you it would not have been possible. For those of you that find our struggle and growth inspiring, or are undergoing a similar transformation in your organizations, please contact us to see if we can be of any help.
Community Development Manager
Regional Online Community Coordinator
Social Media Coordinator
Deputy Director of YouthBank Program
YouthBank Program Manager
Digital Marketing Expert
Business Development Analyst
Business Development Manager
Startup Finance Mentor
Startup Studio Sarajevo Manager
Startup Studio Bihać Coordinator
Collective Impact Director
Diaspora Liaison Manager
Legal & Safeguard Officer
Finance & Accounting Coordinator / Mentor
Finance & Accounting Officer / Mentor
Finance & Accounting Officer / Mentor