US Mayors: Key to Spreading the Innovation of Social Enterprise

The following is a guest blog post by Carla Javits, President and CEO of America Forward Coalition Member, REDF

When we heard that the US Conference of Mayors (USCM) would be in our neighborhood for their annual meeting in June, we immediately offered a tour of a social enterprise – a business-like approach to providing jobs to people who want to work but who face formidable barriers entering the workforce. Social enterprises are something San Francisco can be proud of because many of the best social enterprises in the US are home-grown, and exemplify what the Bay Area is known for far and wide—innovations that benefit society. And Mayors represent the key to spreading that innovation.

As every Mayor knows, every city in America would benefit from expanded job opportunities. And as they also hear from their constituents, no one is pleased about the human and financial costs of persistent unemployment. Everyone’s quality of life and pocketbook is affected when people who are willing and able to work can’t get jobs. And yet it is particularly tough for some people to find their way into the workforce, like people who have been homeless or incarcerated, young people who are unplugged from school, and people who have struggled with mental health or addiction problems.

But there is a solution that works. Social enterprises provide job opportunities in a supportive work environment to people who face these type of challenges. An independent evaluation of REDF’s work conducted by Mathematica Policy Research revealed more than half of the people employed by a social enterprise were still employed one year later, their average monthly earnings went up significantly, their reliance on government benefits went down, and their housing situations stabilized.

Not only does the social enterprise model work for employees and businesses, it works for society as a whole. Social enterprises that REDF invested in had an average social return (SROI) of 123%. In other words, for every $1 spent by the SEs, $2.23 in benefits were produced. Results like these are music Mayor’s ears. 

To allow the Mayors who were in town for the USCM to witness that impact firsthand, REDF coordinated a visit to New Door Ventures’ screen printing social enterprise, Ashbury Images, which serves young people who are disconnected from school and work with the “end goal to help young people create pathways to sustainable lives,” according to CEO Tess Reynolds.

The visit brought together over 60 mayors and their local workforce investment boards to learn about the role and value of social enterprise. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez fired up the crowd, urging the mayors “This is where the action is. Mayors get things done. When you invest in your human capital you are making a statement.”

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon of West Sacramento, Chair of Jobs, Education and Workforce for the Conference of Mayors recommended, “Let’s get operational to bring this work into our own communities”. Thunderous applause followed a young man who presented his own story of a tough life, followed by the chance to work at Ashbury Images. He is now on his way to Morehouse College.

Inspired by hearing about the life-changing impacts of social enterprise employment, combined with impressive business operations and results, the Mayors adopted a first-time ever Resolution calling for action to create more social enterprises across the US, joining an innovative movement that is spreading here, and around the world.

REDF, a member of the America Forward Coalition, builds social enterprises that employ those who have the toughest time getting a job by providing funding, business connections, and operational expertise to the social enterprises, while measuring results to ensure the greatest impact. The jobs these businesses have created have transformed lives, generated $150 million in revenue for the social enterprises, and saved millions of taxpayer dollars. Now REDF is taking what we’ve learned and expanding it across America. By creating an ecosystem of social enterprises, funders, businesses, and government agencies, we will develop a national movement to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and fundamentally transform pathways into the workforce. Carla Javits is the President and CEO of REDF.

THE AMERICA FORWARD COALITION is a network of more than 70 innovative, impact-oriented organizations, working in every state and in more than 14,000 communities nationwide, dedicated to driving systemic change in education, early childhood, workforce development, child welfare and criminal justice. America Forward Coalition members share a commitment to innovating to achieve better results, using data to track progress and ensure accountability, and leveraging resources across silos and sectors to improve the lives of the people they serve. Our Coalition organizations are achieving measurable outcomes in communities across the country every day. We believe that policy approaches that spur innovation, focus on outcomes, and reward results can transform these local results into national change and propel all of America forward.

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