Social Enterprise: The Power of Employment

    Posted 02/20/2013

    Social Enterprise is an exciting new sector of the economy that provides solutions to some of our community’s largest issues such as unemployment, lack of education and access to healthcare.  By merging social mission with competitive business strategies these business are achieving social change by mixing mission with margin. Called the “fourth sector” by Harvard Business Review, this “for-benefit structure… is likely to reshape the future of capitalism.” 
    A social enterprise exists to solve some type of social issue, but instead of seeking funding in the traditional charitable sense; these businesses seek to use the powerful economic engine of capitalism to fund their missions. While many entrepreneurs make charitable donations or run “socially responsible businesses,” a social enterprise is differentiated in that their social aims are primary, and their profits are secondary.
    Communities that support social enterprise businesses realize that they offer products and services they would use every day anyway (such as food service or custodial services). They realize that when they purchase these services from a social enterprise their money works twice in that they are receiving goods or services they requite, but that they are also investing in the health of their community by helping employ some of the most disadvantaged populations. 
    Each year social enterprise businesses serve an untapped labor market made up of thousands of people from disabled and disenfranchised populations that may include at-risk youths, disabled and homeless adults, formerly incarcerated veterans and individuals with mental illness. Very often, these people are reliable employees, even more motivated to work than the typical applicant, but are often overlooked by employers. By providing employment opportunities to these populations, social enterprises are reducing financial costs often shouldered by the community to support them.
    For example, in a recent study done by AspenPointe and presented to the White House and the former U.S. Secretary of Labor, they found that 100 military members left unchecked with no support services cost the Colorado Springs Community 6.8 million dollars as they access crisis services, the court system, foreclosure, the emergency room, etc. 
    The Peer Navigator program helps active-duty service members, veterans, and their family members navigate through complex systems, and offers the necessary support to be successful without the use of emergency-type services. This support can save the community up to $5.8 million. In addition to the massive cost savings, this research shows that quality of life and self-efficacy are also increased, thereby alleviating the revolving door issue that faces so many human service organizations. 
    While social enterprises focus on a double or triple bottom line, for-profit businesses can get involved as well. With unemployment rates around 7.8 percent for the nation, there has been a lot of discussion regarding how to increase hiring, but Social Enterprise can help businesses understand the value and the power they can bring to our economy by employing these populations. 
    For example, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that teen unemployment is at 24 percent and the unemployment rate for male veterans in the 18-24 age group is nearly 30 percent, leaving a skilled workforce without the ability to support their families. This scale of unemployment in able-bodied subgroups creates an even larger challenge for our economy and our community. Without the means to support themselves, many of these people will be faced with legal issues, substance use and mental health issues, and homelessness which again drives up community and taxpayer costs.
    Both of these populations have been served by the AspenPointe Café, for example. Youth have gone through Starbucks Barista Training Program at the Café and then moved on to be employed by a local Starbucks store, which offers benefits for part-time employees and a flexible schedule for students. Many veterans have completed AspenPointe’s 14-week Culinary Training program and have gone on to be employed by local universities and large hotels. 
    So when someone orders a cup of coffee or a meal at the Café, their money works two, three, or four times in that they are offering a training opportunity to the student, who will then get a job, thereby reducing taxpayer costs, and increasing our skilled workforce. Not a bad day’s work for a Social Enterprise…incredibly rewarding actually!


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    AspenPointe has empowered clients, enriched lives and embraced purpose through behavioral health services, counseling services, career services, substance abuse treatment, employment, education, housing, jail diversion/reintegration and care management.

    One of the largest nonprofits in Colorado Springs, AspenPointe traces its roots back to 1875 when we were called the Springs Relief Society. That organization, which delivered coal, lumber and clothing to the needy, was the genesis of what today is a comprehensive and integrated system of care that addresses the overall wellness of each client whether they need behavioral health services, counseling services or career services.

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