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Venturing Green

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The nonprofit groups that have started these businesses have done so primarily to advance their own missions. This is an opportunity to move folks out of poverty into prosperity, while greening out planet,' said Michele McGeoy, executive director of Solar Richmond, a solar jobs training program in the San Francisco Bay Area.

--Liz Galst, "Nonprofit Groups Spin Off Green Ventures," The New York Times, November 1, 2009

Other green ventures mentioned include Sweet Beginnings, Growing Home, SmartRoofs, LLC and Women's Action to Gain Economic Security. These various social enterprises are relatively small, generate only a portion of their budgets from revenue, depend upon government/private funding and train small numbers. The article doesn't mention their outcomes in terms of job placements, retention or career advancement.

But several of these groups, maybe more, work with some of the hardest to employ and provide a first step into the world of work. The ability to have a job right now is key for some people to move forward,rather than going through training and waiting for a job. Even the small amount of private revenue makes these programs feel more like the real world of business -- an important aspect of good training models. And the market side of these programs attracts a new set of investors and partners who are disenchanted by run-of-the-mill government programs, no matter their outcomes.

Are theses nonprofit ventures harbingers of bigger and better things to come? It's hard to scale these businesses or even to replicate them. And not surprisingly, they are dependent upon social entrepreneurs.

But there are a lot of people out there ready to be social entrepreneurs. Given the economy, this mix of nonprofit mission and business development is more important than ever. Small programs fire the imagination of what could be done. That's a good thing!

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