My company joined the Social Enterprise Alliance in early 2017.
I envisioned SEA as a small, poor, and humble community of people creating companies whose products and services directly address systemic inequities in society. I’m talking about homelessness; joblessness; poor health; and incarceration. Inequities in education, healthcare, and capital investment. Oh, and the environmental effects of life on the wrong side of the tracks.
Well, the Social Enterprise Summit 2019 conference (#SEAsummit19) blasted those ideas out of my head. It was my first clue of the size and scale of the growing “virtue economy.” That “small community” that was birthed when cheap airline travel opened up the world to ordinary Westerners, is actually creating something new.
The organizational and issue-oriented silos, the poverty-mentality thinking about sustainability and fundraising, are gone. Once disjunct, very individual groups are now a web, massive and growing. A lot of revolutionary thinking and dynamic collaboration is going on inside the web.
The Big Tent
What I found at the SEA Summit 2019 nin Chicago is a huge, dynamic ecosystem. It’s a “big tent” that encompasses organizations as diverse as The Lighthouse, Inspiration Kitchens, Vehicles for Change – and little outfits like us!
Under the tent are a legion of organizations increasingly working together, and actively mentoring and fostering the next generation. They no longer see themselves as competing for funding. Instead, they help each other develop market-driven solutions to the funding conundrum. And they coach and mentor each other.
Also under the tent was Gen Z, our next generation; and the first 100% digital natives. The youngest of these are still in their teens; the oldest are starting to run things. And they think differently. They are the fruit of Free Agent Nation, born to be independent. They’ve been told they should work at something they’re passionate about. (God knows, nobody told me that!) Additionally, they’ve probably been laid off from a job at least once, or seen their parents buffeted about in the corporate world. And they, like the Millennials, may have student loans. Way more than any generation of Americans before them, they are likely to have an international view.
A Changing of the Guard
Maybe it’s just me, but I felt a tidal wave of optimism at the Social Enterprise Summit 2019. I watched the Millenials operate as the leadership of this national organization, marveling at how easily they can build community across the entire planet.
There was plenty of gray hair in the room, as well, and that’s part of the excitement. The wealth of experience is being passed on, and the social enterprise sector is beginning to flex its economic muscle.
Where there is economic muscle, banks and lenders will show up. New (to me) funders were prominent at #SEAsummit19, among them conference sponsors REDF (venture philanthropy that invests exclusively in social enterprises that employ and empower people overcoming barriers to work.) and RSF (social finance). These offer not just funding, but technical assistance and consulting services to build the capacity of small enterprises. And they are not the only ones; there are a growing number of players in the sector. A few traditional lenders, sensing new opportunity, attended the conference as well.
Local Chicago Folks
We’ve known The Lighthouse since forever as “Lighthouse for the Blind.” For the better part of a century they have manufactured multiple products that both earn revenue and train the blind and handicapped. I probably still have some of their lightbulbs in my basement!
A Safe Haven is a legacy nonprofit offering wraparound services in a holistic approach to homelessness, job readiness, substance abuse, and more. They actually get people back on their feet. Social enterprises under their tent have large landscaping, catering, and other workforce contracts with the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois. They serve some 5,000 people a year.
Other Surprises in a Nationwide Gathering of Social Enterprises
And, we ran into 20-year old Baltimore-based Vehicles for Change. Local to us, this organization gets used cars into the hands of (mostly) single parents with children, to help them navigate these Maryland / DC Beltway communities that are not – let’s face it – built for walkability. Schools, lessons, jobs, groceries – with kids, how can you do it without a car? You don’t! What I hadn’t known is that the Vehicles for Change automobile mechanics are returning citizens – facing barriers to employment after incarceration, time in the military, etc. They train auto mechanics and get them certified. Here again, the marketplace is thirsty for people. Talk about impact!
It’s About Impact, Folks!
Impact. That’s the word of the day. Every organization in this community keeps a laser focus on measurement – whatever measurement looks like for their business. What value do you actually produce with all this effort? How do you quantify your impact in the world? What are the metrics of your industry – and can you meet or exceed them? For-profits have to do it! So do social enterprises.
For those who do good because they see the waste of human potential all around them in their cities and towns; who know it doesn’t have to be this way; who just want to do business, and who don’t think of themselves as missionaries…Welcome to social enterprise!
Content Writing for Social Enterprises
Impact businesses are in our sweet spot. Our brand promise is content writing that captures the essence of a social enterprise brand and can speak directly to the most important target audiences. We understand social enterprises need to communicate their unique value proposition – same as a for-profit does – and help their market understand the impact they make and how funding, volunteers, technology transfers, and other critical supports can make the difference.
Ready to take your digital presence to the next level? Call today to discuss your organization’s branding, marketing, or content planning challenges. Let’s see if we can help.