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Exploring Social Enterprises

Updated: Jul 29, 2022

Over 60% of college students have been impacted by job insecurities since COVID-19. This grim statistic from The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice highlights one of the many challenges today's college student faces. Building from our previous conversation on Affordable Housing we learned that 59% of community college students in Tarrant County are worried about having enough money to pay for school. Realizing the length of obstacles students face in finding affordable housing, many of which were present prior to COVID-19, we agreed that finding solutions that provide a stable living wage and accommodate a students needs are essential to ensuring the success of our future leaders.

This brought us to explore social enterprises and share insights with Prisma Garcia, Director of Capacity Building at Social Venture Partners. There has been a lot of hype around this vehicle of business, but what are they and how do they actually help society? We recognize a social enterprise as any entity using market driven practices to address a human problem. A human problem could be addressing hunger, job placement, or in the current context aiding college students experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness. Social Enterprises can be mis-interpreted and the terminology to reference can be muddled. We learn that there are three distinct areas withing the social ecosystem. Social Innovation is the process of developing and deploying effective solutions to challenging and often systemic social and environmental issues in support of social progress. It is about developing an Idea, immersing in the narrative of the challenge, and solving a human problem. Social Enterprise is the vehicle for Social Innovation and building an effective business model around the premise of solving a human problem. It requires the creative insight of a social entrepreneur willing to take a risk. Social Entrepreneurship is the mindset of the social entrepreneur. It is the curious pursuit of searching for new ways of solving old and current problems. It the ability to understand the challenge, to collaborate with key stakeholders, to find creative means to collect resources, and remain persistent through developing a social enterprise.

Social Enterprise Model: Greg Dees

Social Enterprises create an intersection of mission and market and must establish where they fall in the hybrid spectrum of achieving a social mission and generating a profit. It is a constant juggle between stakeholders, impact, and investing in a problem area versus prioritizing shareholders, profits, and investing in the company. Social Enterprises also come in multiple varieties which can include non-profits that have income generating programs or projects such as Everyday Table, which offer meal kits for families in resource limited communities, Cafe Momentum, which offers employment options to individuals with previous felony convictions, and On The Road Lending, which offers very accessible micro loans to low to moderate income communities for the purchase of vehicle. Funding can stem grants or investments into the social enterprise arm of the organization.

In the for profit spectrum we explore Grameen Bank, a micro-finance bank in India that helped elevate poor woman in rural communities. This concept introduced the social enterprise as a new vehicle for addressing human problems and its concepts have been utilized in many organizations looking to help resource limited communities. We learn about B-Corp and their role as a certification agency to promote foster socially minded businesses balance profit with purpose. The certification serves as a symbol to align customers looking to support businesses with a social purpose. Soap Hope in a similar fashion attracts customers cautious about the environmental impact of their soap products. They further expand their purpose by hiring people with disabilities and guaranteeing 100% of their profits to organizations that support this community. With the recent events, Ben and Jerry's has received some fanfare with Justice Remixed and Resist Pecan, two relatively new flavors of ice cream produced to encourage conversations on systemic racism. Although primarily operating as a traditional for-profit companies like Ben and Jerry's can blur their position on the social spectrum model and what should be considered a social enterprise. Other models like Toms, fall within a for profit with a social mission, operating with a profit and a social purpose simultaneously. With many of the for profit companies, the funding will come from venture capitalist or traditional investments.

Regardless of the where it fit on the spectrum, a social enterprise requires a business model. There are key priorities that must be fulfilled for the business to be successful and resilient. They must define their value propositions and how they will provide a unique value to the market and the problem they aim to address. There have been variety of models previous enterprises have used to generate revenue and support a social purpose. Entrepreneurial Models provide finance and support services to help incubate other enterprises similar to the Grameen Bank. Market Intermediary Models focus on generating income as distributors for target communities or providing certifications to encourage purposeful actions. These can take the form of organizations like Fair Trade or B-Corp. Employment Models like Goodwill create services that hire or train effected populations for the services they provide. Examples like Everyday Table operate under a Fee for Service Models and offer sliding scale prices to help resource limited communities with purchasing. Similarly Low Income Client Models can offer services specifically to resource limited communities. Garbage Clinic Insurance offers health insurance to impoverished residents and helps relieve environmental dangers in Indonesia by providing a platform for community garbage collectors to receive health insurance for their service. Cooperative Models have been used recently to develop community owned farms or grocery stores. This model has also been utilized in affordable housing projects to help reduce the cost of rent by removing the need for third party maintenance and allowing the membership to generate equity and voting power for the property. Model Linkage Models focus on create new market opportunities for target communities. Clear Path operates under this model and creates a direct pipeline between specialty small coffee growers in Columbia and commercial markets to increase grower profitability. Service Subsidization Models utilize a business as a separate entity to subsidize the cost of certain services for a parent organization. Organizational Support Models in a similar fashion utilize a separate business to provide income for programs or operational overhead that lack sustained funding.

Human problems often stem from a multitude of underlying factors. When determining a core purpose it benefits an entity to become as intimately aware of the problem and the audience they plan to serve. to best address this, Design Thinking becomes an effective methodology to engage a target community and map out a challenge. The process is focus around building empathy towards a problem and lifting the voice of a target audience. By listening to the concerns of a community and putting them in a position to help co-create solutions an entity can reduce the magnitude of assumption and increase the likelihood a proposed solution will be embraced. Human problems are complex and messy and are too grand for any one organization to face alone. Lasting solutions require efforts on multiple fronts, and inherently there are some aspects of a challenge, such as policy development, that are difficult for social enterprises to address. It raises the importance of building efforts on a collective front, understanding what aspects of a challenge a social enterprise can feasibly handle, and what partners are needed to create lasting impact.

Transitioning to a time of interpersonal discussion, many key insights were shared regarding how social enterprises can play a role in addressing college homelessness in Tarrant Country. For starters, one common sentiment was that social entrepreneurs and innovators must be comfortable with the fact that social ventures can take a for-profit approach. As “social impact” and “non-profit” can sometimes be incorrectly conflated, designers, problem-solvers, and social-champions must understand that for-profit ventures are also part of systemic solutions. Since different business models can correlate with different stakeholders, resources, and opportunities, social entrepreneurs should see great value in collaborating with organizations whose financial compositions might differ. With that said, as we journey to discovering sustainable solutions to college homelessness, we ought to be willing, open, and even excited to engage social enterprises from all ends of the “non-profit/for-profit spectrum.”

Taking a more specific look at college homelessness itself, the assertion was made that solutions to the issue might vary on a University by University level, meaning that Universities must take responsibility and give credence to an often unseen reality. Since COVID-19 has had drastic effects on the economy and employment thus far, it will be interesting to see if this crippling global pandemic might actually open doors for college homelessness to be a more widely discussed issue. A story shared with the group reveal the difficulty of finding resources as a college student, amidst an forced move out due to COVID-19. As more students might struggle paying for rent and securing housing, the repercussions of COVID-19 just might open the door for college homelessness to be more adequately addressed.

One University which seems to be taking responsibility and shedding light on college homelessness is Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. With their Campus Awareness, Resource & Empowerment (CARE) Services, Kennesaw State offers four different programs to their students and community: KSU Cares, Emergency Assistance, KSU Vista Network, and Gear Up Georgia. Through these services, Kennesaw State supports their students who have experienced homelessness and food insecurity, offers financial assistance to those in need, seeks to end poverty on campus and in the community, and empowers high school students who are homeless or in the foster care system. As many Universities like to boast about “forming community,” Kennesaw State actually puts their commitment to students in action. Closer to home Amarillo Community College akin to utilizing the entrepreneurs mindset, has focused on creating an environment to that is right for the students. By keeping a nimble framework the college is able to adjust services and give staff the opportunity to help students more effectively.

To fuse the topic of this specific forum and our chief concern of college homelessness, the idea of a “Social Enterprise Marketplace” merits consideration and discussion. Now, such a concept actually can be interpreted in two different ways—both of them applicable and meaningful. On one hand, a Social Enterprise Marketplace could be thought of as a Social Enterprise Thinktank: a collective of social entrepreneurs coming together to ideate, collaborate, innovate, revise, and implement. One possible example of such an idea is ReUnion, an accelerator program that brings together start-up social entrepreneurs of color to improve their business models. However, the Social Enterprise Marketplace doesn’t necessarily have to be an accelerator program but rather a collective of social entrepreneurs in Fort Worth who regularly join together to discuss and receive feedback on their respective ventures.

Just as human-centered design is crucial to addressing systemic issues, namely college homelessness in this case, the idea of a Social Enterprise Marketplace raises the importance of the Collective Impact problem-solving framework. Instead of different social ventures operating in a silo, cohesion in, and among, various fields is necessary in order to solve systemic issues in an efficient and effective manner. A Social Enterprise Marketplace could facilitate the establishment of collective impact initiatives for social enterprises currently seeking to tackle the same issue, or it could afford the opportunity for entrepreneurs to learn from the findings of those who are primarily addressing different issues. Speaking on the latter, even though college homelessness and human trafficking, for example, are two different problems to be addressed, the Social Enterprise Marketplace could enable the parties from the two different fields to share findings and strategies pertaining to areas of overlap (affordable/stable housing, support systems, etc.) that will offer unique insights to both.

Another interpretation of the Social Enterprise Marketplace can be imagined metaphorically not as a thinktank but rather a food-hall. Just as a food-hall brings together a variety of dining options from which consumers can choose where to eat, the Social Enterprise Marketplace could provide a place (physically or virtually) wherein consumers would know that their purchases at the Marketplace are benefiting a social cause. It could serve as a potential vessel for bringing a diverse base of entrepreneurs of color to be champions in addressing the challenges they have experience. It could elevate the local talent of Fort Worth, and bring new ideas to the entrenched issues effecting our city.

Pertaining to college homelessness, there even exists the opportunity to create the Social Enterprise Marketplace so that every purchase/engagement/donation benefits efforts toward solving the specific aforementioned issue. The Marketplace could decide to only focus on one specific social issue for its entire existence, or it could regularly rotate between beneficiaries. To provide an imaginative example of this kind of Social Enterprise Marketplace, consider an effort to unite the various social enterprises in Fort Worth to join together toward a single cause. Imagine the amount of media attention, awareness, and funds that would be raised if a cohesive, cross-industry effort was made. The Marketplace could be a vessel to empower the college students we are seeking to serve to themselves engage in social enterprises.

Social Ventures in Central Ohio provides a model similar to both iterations of Social Enterprise Marketplaces being discussed. They provide workshops and programs to train entrepreneurs, and actively increase the awareness of social enterprises through their regular blogs and reports. Further, Social Ventures facilitates access to capital for participating social entrepreneurs. Most similar to the idea of a Social Enterprise Marketplace, though, is its online Marketplace which lists the products, services, and impact of social enterprises in Central Ohio. As there are many social enterprises in Fort Worth, the existence of Social Ventures poses a key question. Why doesn’t such an organization exist here? Could we explore the creation a Social Enterprise Marketplace similar to Social Ventures to aid in addressing college homelessness in Tarrant County?

All the ideas discussed are exciting prospects. The excitement is matched by the reality that each idea requires a substantial collective effort, which can be difficult to manifest, and even more difficult to implement even if you have the right people at the table. Impact is forged in optimism, and the mindset of the entrepreneur becomes a key element in chipping away a challenge like college homelessness, regardless of the vessel used. Tangible employment options are needed that provide a living wage and the essential support services to help today's college student. Although we discovered a multitude of possibilities, there is much left to explore in this topic.

We have only touched the perceivable tip of the social enterprise iceberg. Excitingly, we adjourn taking the following discussions and the following questions and ideas with us. Could a venture be created that provides college students employment while also generating returns for its shareholders while even allowing for a form of secure housing? Could Universities partner with a hotel chain to create housing (for college students and the public) and provide employment opportunities? Could a network of enterprises come together to each provide a unique level of support in the face of the many challenges that college students face? Could we host a social enterprise event specifically on college homelessness to foster creative solutions? Could we create and environment to empower those with lived experience and reflect on our own biases?

Join us and share your ideas as we continue to explore these questions and dive deeper into this topic. With each conversation we take a step closer to being One Talk Away from solving college homelessness.


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