It’s ironic that Alexander Osterwalder uses a “business model for a cow” as a playful exercise to get people thinking about the issues of how to design business models. We have been using Osterwalder’s business model canvas to think through the issues around  a learning community of expatriate Dutch dairy farmers. One of the issues that Josien Kapma is working on, and that we’re trying to understand with her in our “Shadow the Leader” series, is how a learning community can be sustainable financially.  It can take significant resources to support a community of practice, so financial and other resources can be a limiting factor in pursuing a learning agenda.

Using Osterwalder’s scheme has not led directly to a financial plan.  Instead, it has brought up a lot of issues about the social context of learning. During our monthly conversations we have come to see that these three issues interact with learning and financial sustainability in interesting ways:

  • Increasing mobility (farmers born in The Netherlands, farming anywhere in the world) requires people to re-invent practices like farming and learning.
  • The internet breaks old models for supporting knowledge brokering (it strips control that once was tied to physical books or agricultural extension services, for example).
  • New environmental sustainability goals are quite ambitious, and make farming even more knowledge-intensive than it was before).

It has also been interesting to see some of the analogies between a community startup and its Silicon Valley cousin.