This time last year, OtagoNet, CantaNet and SILC began the process of forming NetNZ. A lot has happened in a year so it would be worth staking stock and reflecting on where we are at. This is part one in a review of our first year.
Our organisational model is now firmly in place and consists of a limited liability company NetNZ Ltd, owned by a Charitable Trust. The Trust is designed to ensure ownership is retained by our schools, and will have elected representatives from the schools on the board. At the moment we have a foundation board in place to get things up and going, but our AGM in the middle of this year will provide an opportunity for elected reps to take their place – hopefully plenty of keen people out there. It is imperative our schools feel they have ownership of, and an important voice in the direction of NetNZ. We have identified a key goal this year to ensure our schools have ‘agency’ and are fully involved. Last year that fell away compared to the way our clusters have historically operated, but that is perhaps understandable as a lot of work went in to get things established. Important that this is rectified this year (with a term almost gone already).
As I mentioned a significant amount of work went into getting the organisation established. There was an incredible amount of legal, financial and operational red tape to wade through, but good to have that all behind us now.
The executive consists of a team of four people – two full time (representing the Otago/Southland and Canterbury regions) and two part time. Having a team in place is a far more effective and sustainable model of leadership than what many clusters have operated under in the past. I have personally found it a far better and more rewarding work environment. As we grow we need to see that model expand and become more distributed. It would be fantastic to see pods of people with responsibility to make things happen in different areas. Funding needed for that though…
…which of course leads to one of the major challenges we face over the next two to three years. Neither CantaNet, OtagoNet and SILC were financially sustainable (operated on a loss for some time) so it is important NetNZ provides a strong financial foundation from which to build from. The joining fees our schools paid, provided a useful bit of seed funding, but this was very limited. In the second half of last year I pursued a number of potential partnerships with various businesses – one of those discussions is still developing, while another resulted in a very promising partnership with Datacom. While this didn’t result in funding it did result in the development of an extremely valuable, funded Computer Science Course. These sorts of sponsored partnerships have significant potential for future development.
Still much to do on the funding front though and this is an important part of our other key goal this year – to develop sustainability. We will pursue funding options from business, charitable organisation / funds, and the MOE. It will be interesting where we have come with that by the end of the year.
Another important part of providing financial sustainability is the exchange model that is in place for enrolments. All student enrolments now have a value of $1200 (for members) attached to them. The provision of one course gives a school 10 free or banked enrolment places. The idea is that they then purchase places on top of this, which provides the much needed cash exchange we need for our operations. Schools may also choose not to provide a course and purchase individual places. This provides transparency (it is clear what you get for your resourcing) and flexibility for schools. The other element to that is we made our courses open to enrolments from any school across the country (at a cost of $1500 per place).
There are two issues which means we can’t fully adopt this model of finance this year. One is that it relies on many of our schools purchasing enough places to meet most of our expenses for the year. Unfortunately many schools have remained under the entitlement they got for the course(s) they put into the mix which means there wouldn’t be nearly enough money to cover things. We need to continue to scale as an organisation to provide opportunity for cash to flow in. We have to be careful that we don’t expand beyond what our current leadership model can handle. The other issue is that we have not received any extra purchased enrolments (that would potentially top up our funding) from non NetNZ or non-VLNC members. So no extra cash there and obviously a lot of work to do on marketing this year.
To ensure we didn’t have a major shortfall in our first year we advised schools last year that we will still need a set contribution (based on the previous years’ contribution), but to consider that as pre-payment of enrolments (on top of what they received from putting a course or course in).
2015 will be an important year in ensuring a sustainable future and as mentioned, is a key goal for us. This will entail exploring opportunities to diversify our services (but at a cost), pursuing seed funding from business, MOE and charitable sources, marketing our courses nationally, and developing programmes for adult learners and exploring opportunities internationally (more on this later). Lots to do.