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A deeper dive into Social Enterprises

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

Through our discussion on social enterprises, some interesting topics arose that sparked some curiosity, and warranted some additional exploration. Through some additional discussion, research, and internal debate, we share our insights to the following.

In many of the examples we researched, manufacturing came up as a reoccurring outlet for many global social enterprises. However, our opinions are mixed on this approach. On one hand it is a great way to create a boost of jobs and a sustainable revenue stream to use to further combat the issue. However, like many other industrial enterprises, it requires constant consumption and production to keep the machine running. As the need for building new products remains constant, these enterprises can contribute to a larger problem of climate change and resource depletion. It would be interesting to see if any of the entities have an expiration date once their objective is completed, and what the long-term metrics of success would look like.

When exploring the idea of using a work-study program, we discussed a government loophole that allow students to receive pay without losing their qualifications to apply for social programs. On paper, these seems like a perfect way to allow students to get the best of both worlds. However, there were concerns on creating jobs that rely solely on stipends. Given that federal and local government programs are prone to changes, the utility that this approach could offer may be limited. It is one of the unfortunate effects of the system, where employment can often lead to being quickly cut off to the resources that help an individual get ahead. Getting a job becomes a delicate juggle, as a paid income may result in less month to month revenue after benefits and subsidies are stripped. This puts an individual in a vicious cycle where additional income is needed to pay for the increased overhead, which then disqualifies them from other resources, requiring even more income. This cycle can often lead them back to extreme housing insecurity or homelessness as current wages are not always enough to support an individual under current market rates and makes it difficult for those in need to get stable footing before being weened of support systems.

The use of stipends also feed into another issue, the narrative of abusing the system, which often can plague efforts to build empathy towards those effected. Additionally, it assumed that work experience gained as an intern, or participant of a work-study is a guarantee to meaningful employment. Alongside work studies, there is also potential with bringing back the apprenticeship model, especially as the cost of education increases. As college has become the primary vessel to getting a good job, it raises the question of what other vessels could help create well informed residents if workforce placement is more effectively handled through other means. With Texas having one of the worst ranks in the country for funding higher education, the cost will only continue to rise as colleges rely on tuition and local tax increases to cover rising demand, constituting the need for more effective measures on ensuring economic success.

When discussing the name of the initiative, College Homelessness, we entertained if it might be beneficial to re-brand the initiative as to not entice people to look at this with a negative connotation. However, examining this further brings up a more relevant question; why is the word homeless such an unspeakable phrase? If this word is so toxic, then it pays to ask what led us to this point and why is there such an inherent fear towards this work and the people experiencing it. If anything, we are shifting the truth of the challenge and skating around the issue in the effort to make it sound less painful.  This often leads me to a funny, but deep piece by the late great George Carlin on soft language. Have we been conditioned to hide from reality? It would seem we are still creating new language to protect ourselves from the pain of the world. How do we hold honest dialogue more comfortably on this topic without applying our personal bias to assumptions and solutions? How might we collectively create a shared narrative the general public would be willing to participate in?

Photo courtesy of San Jose Housing Department

Following the forum, there have been a lot of discussions and models shared using tiny homes. The latest is a small community in San Jose, that offers temporary (60 Days) shelter for those in need. It was a 2-year battle faced with neighborhood challenges towards having a homeless complex adjacent to their communities.  This is not a new challenge, but it is still concerning how entrenched it is across the nation. My views on tiny homes have been mixed. I am a big advocate for efficient use of space and sustainable practices however projects like this can give excuse to the base conditions that resulted in tiny homes being needed. Homelessness is not just a condition of not having available homes, it is also a condition of the existing homes becoming too expensive. If we allow this to skate by unchallenged, we will be looking for smaller, less dignified solutions in a not too far future when cottage homes become trendy. Lastly, projects like this make identifying those that are affected by homelessness very easy. This may or may not be a bad thing but is worth exploring.

Looking a little deeper into the Not in My Backyard mindset, we discussed how colleges might be able to navigate this hurdle more effectively since they own their land. However, discussions with some champions in California revealed how UC Santa Cruz faced challenges from local neighbors in developing a complex to house 3,000 students. From blocking the view, to concerns about destroying a frog habitat, the reasons stem from the same mindset of fearing change. Locally, the conversation is not so different, citing parking, parties, and crime as key factors in not wanting new development. Falling back on some of the previous insights, how might we have more intentional conversation about this challenge so we can create communities for all?

There is still more to discuss on this unique topic. We hope that we may stumble on some other solutions and insights to help us further develop our approach to this challenge as we dive deeper into understanding its causes. How might we change this current reality and give a fair and ample opportunity for every future leader to achieve their potential?


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