Since embarking on my professional journey in the social sector here in Seattle, I’ve quickly become exposed to an array of local organizations tackling complex social issues in very unique ways. For example, Fare Start and Street Bean Espresso, one a restaurant and catering service and the other seemingly just another coffee shop, are living, breathing examples of profitable enterprises with a social impact bend. The first, Fare Start, hires almost uniquely from a demographic which mostly goes overlooked by many employers, e.g. at-risk youth, recently recovering drug addicts, homeless, etc. In addition, Fare Start provides a host of job-training and placement services in the culinary field which effectively equip their employees with tangible, transferable skills for future jobs in the industry. In similar fashion, Street Bean Espresso also employs this demographic, reaching out and providing formal job-training resources to those with little access to them.
Another local organization, Upaya Social Ventures, although serving a more specific demographic in rural India operates under the same belief that a job is one of the best tools available for poverty alleviation. Serving the poorest of the poor, Upaya provides technical and financial assistance to support the scale-up of early stage Indian start-ups which, upon developing their business and growing their headcount, pledge to hire directly from the community in which they are based.
As a social business model, this is both unique and, at the same time, pretty obvious. Employing those who statistically would likely have remained unemployed or otherwise under-employed and utilizing their labor makes good business sense. These individuals now each contribute to and are members of a successful enterprise, providing their labor and newly acquired skills to help generate revenue and sustain the business. Taking a closer look, this exchange actually appears much more commercial than charitable in nature, and better off for it.
These organizations clearly reflect a broader trend of “Conscious Capitalism” or “Giving Back a la Seattle” (my personal preference), one which marries together a strong sense of community and volunteerism with the belief that free enterprise can be one of the most effective systems for delivering critical resources and services to those most in need.