After the mid-term elections, when the Republicans took control of the Senate and the House, exit polls showed the economy was the top issue on voters' minds. With wage stagnation and a widening income gap, voters' doubts about the economy are increasing.
With an approval rating of 16 percent, the new Republican majority has it's work cut out for it. People want to see their representatives achieve tangible results to move this country forward. Now is the time for Congress to move from stalled inaction to action. When they can find common ground policy, action is almost an imperative.
A promising solution exists that offers Republicans and Democrats a business-friendly way to create jobs and save taxpayers money: social enterprise. This model squarely hits on inequality and job growth and is a proven method of addressing chronic joblessness; social enterprises have already provided thousands of jobs for local communities across the U.S.
REDF, alongside partners in California and around the country, have made job creation for people facing barriers to work a centerpiece of our mission. We have spent nearly two decades investing money and expertise in social enterprises, which in this case are mission-driven businesses focused on hiring and assisting people who are willing and able to work, but have the hardest time getting a job. These businesses earn and reinvest their revenue to provide more people with jobs that build skills and a career path.
The benefits are clear from a recent report by Mathematica Policy Research that REDF commissioned as part of its participation in the Social Innovation Fund - a program set up by Congress with bipartisan support that evaluates the impact of social programs in order to channel funding to those that achieve results.
The evaluation shows that a year after employment in the social enterprise, income from work increases by 268 percent; reliance on government benefits decreases from 71 percent of their monthly income to 24 percent.
The return on investment for society is more than $2 for every $1 invested. Taxpayers save because these businesses generate revenue to pay for programs, and workers earn an income, allowing them to rely less on government benefits. It also keeps people off the streets and out of prison. It's hard to argue with those results.
So what can people engaged in the social enterprise movement do to make this a strong option for the Republican leadership as they take control of a widely disrespected Congress? And how do we galvanize the movement to be part of the national conversation on job growth and equality?
In the spirit of a political party looking for impact that depends on private initiative as much as public resources, we need to open up channels for sharing knowledge about 'what works.' We need to find new ways to connect the social enterprises that prepare people for jobs with the mainstream companies that can open their doors to people ready for work, who they might otherwise fail to consider because of histories of incarceration or homelessness. We can challenge social enterprises to deliver consistent training with fidelity to what the evidence tells us works best. And we can challenge mainstream employers to offer work environments that support the training and advancement of their frontline employees.
To help ignite further sharing in this field, this March REDF launched REDFworkshop.org, a unique website platform that brings together social enterprise stakeholders and creates a national conversation. As a McKinsey Global report notes, "The internet has enabled fundamental business transformations that span the entire value chain in virtually all sectors and types of companies....".
REDFworkshop.org offers this kind of transformative opportunity, with a platform that will inform and connect social enterprise, mainstream companies, government leaders, philanthropy and nonprofits. As with other web-based platforms that have emerged from innovation ground zero here in the Bay Area, REDFworkshop.org aims to galvanize action that will put hundreds of thousands more people to work. It offers powerful tools that will enable people to launch and grow social enterprises around the country. Interviews with provocative social enterprise leaders, government officials, investors, employers and others offer their insights and ideas as to how to get engaged, and take action.
Transforming the employment landscape requires significant change and the support of Republicans, Democrats and Independents! Given the benefit to the taxpayers, workers and our communities, social enterprise is a proven, scalable solution.
Our elected representatives assure us they want to get things done for the American people. It's their move. Bring social enterprise higher up on the economic agenda and let's create policies that will take this movement to the next level. Together we can create an economy that works for all of us.