The many faces of social enterprise

Social enterprise is hard to define. I’ve studied them for years, and there are many definitions, nuances and interpretations.

Social enterprise is hard to define. I’ve studied them for years, and there are many definitions, nuances and interpretations. For example, Social Enterprise Alliance characterizes social enterprise as an organization that combines the social mission of a non-profit with the market-driven approach of a business. At their core, social enterprises endeavor to solve some of the world’s most complex social and environmental problems in a more financially sustainable, scalable way. They’re changing the face of nonprofits and challenging assumptions about corporate governance.

But instead of trying to pin down a rigid definition of social enterprise, why not give you some examples? Across the country, these innovative organizations promise to provide jobs for vulnerable women, offer refugee services and innovate in education. Social enterprise is about finding creative solutions to big problems. Here are just a few examples:

Empowering Women

  • Pathway Women’s Business Center provides training and educational resources for women-owned business. They offer classes for Nashville based female entrepreneurs and online classes for everyone else. To support Pathway WBC, you can donate, volunteer your services or become a mentor.
  • With every purse, scarf and bracelet, FashionABLE creates sustainable employment for women. FashionABLE offers scarves and leather goods made by women in Ethiopia and in Nashville who have overcome prostitution, homelessness and addiction. They are available in FashionABLE’s online store and in boutiques across the country.
  • Bright Endeavors transforms the lives of young moms through their paid job training program. Young mothers receive guidance and job skills as they learn to craft premium soy candles. Shop online or use their store locator to find a carrier near you.
  • DreamWeave employs women in a Nashville prison, teaching them to handcraft woven purses from repurposed products, like wrapping paper, magazines and maps. DreamWeave even helps women transition out of prison, allowing them to continue to work as teachers and trainers after release.
  • Sseko Designs is a fashion brand that offers leather shoes, bags and accessories made by female artisans in Uganda. The young women’s wages generate college tuition money in communities where female education is undervalued. You can shop online or even host a trunk show.
  • Women’s Bean Project is a transitional job training program for women who have been chronically unemployed. You can buy their gourmet food or handmade jewelry, which supports wraparound services like classes in interpersonal and life skills. Those in the Denver area can volunteer alongside the women or sign up as mentors. The rest of us can donate to Women’s Bean Project and even host a Bean Sprouts Party or Fundraiser.

Services for Immigrants and Refugees

  • Catholic Charities provides resettlement services to refugee families. They secure and furnish apartments, provide clothing and connect refugees with case managers, who help apply for Social Security cards, schedule medical appointments and enroll children in school. Check them out to discover a branch of Catholic Charities in your area.
  • Mi Casa Resource Center has been dedicated to advancing the economic success of Latino families since 1976. They provide career development, education and youth services in the Denver area. Mi Casa Back Office Solutions and Mi Casa Talent Solutions offer bookkeeping and bilingual staffing services for nonprofits and businesses.
  • The ShareLingo Project brings English and Spanish speakers together to practice language and share culture. They help nonprofits working with Latinos further their mission and work with schools to improve engagement with Latino parents. Check them out if you’re interested in brushing up on your foreign language skills.

Combating Human Trafficking

  • Songs Against Slavery raises funds and inspires communities to join the fight against domestic sex trafficking through benefit concerts and musician partnerships. You can donate, sponsor events and buy tickets on their website.
  • BRANDED Collective jewelry is handmade by survivors of domestic human trafficking. Their delicate bracelets and necklaces are all stamped with a number that represents one of the millions of girls trapped in the nightmare of trafficking. You can shop their online store or find their jewelry in boutiques across the country.
  • Thistle Farms offers home and body products made by women healing from prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Through a two-year residential program, advocacy services, education and training, Thistle Farms supports women through all stages of recovery. You can find their products in Whole Foods or in their online store.

Education and Workforce Development

  • CiviCorps is a dropout recovery school in Oakland that re-engages young adults to earn a high school diploma, gain job skills, pursue college and seek sustainable careers. All students are low income, 99% are ethnic minorities and many are parents. Half are formerly incarcerated and half are struggling with homelessness. Furthermore, for the last 28 years, Civicorps Recycling has provided high-quality recycling collections while also training low-income youth to enter lucrative careers. East Bay residents can hire CiviCorps for curbside pickup.
  • Pioneer Human Services provides treatment, housing and job skills training for people released from prison or recovering from addiction in Washington State. They hire graduates from their job training programs to work in manufacturing, commercial food services, construction and corporate office divisions. Donate or sign up to be a volunteer online.
  • Greyston is a bakery that employs and supports people of all backgrounds through an integrated network of programs providing jobs, workforce development, low-income housing, childcare, after-school programs and community gardens. You can find their baked goods at their store in Yonkers, at Whole Foods and even in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
  • FareStart helps people escape the cycle of poverty through their culinary and barista training programs throughout Seattle. To date, 12,500 people have graduated from their member organizations. Visit one of their restaurants and cafes, hire their catering team or donate online.
  • All the proceeds from the sales of Rosa Hermosa clothing are donated to public school scholarships for girls in Honduras. Shop their line online or in select boutiques in Nashville.
  • Liberty’s Kitchen empowers young people through life skills training and employment in their cafe. The School Nutrition Program serves fresh, scratch-made lunches to low-income students. Those in New Orleans can visit the cafe or volunteer and the rest of us can donate online.
  • Primavera Works supplies day laborers, janitorial services, landscaping, administrative workers and more in Tuscon, Arizona. Primavera offers its workers free lunches, bus passes, appropriate clothing for the job, safety equipment, job readiness training classes and housing. Sign up to donate or volunteer online.

The ventures above are just a small snapshot of the growing social enterprise sector, which is committed to creating an inclusive, equitable society for all. Whether you’re looking to volunteer or simply support a like minded organization, there are plenty of ways to get involved.

To find a social enterprise to support in your area, visit Social Enterprise Alliance’s online directory.

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