Investing in the Poor Through Social Enterprise Self-Employment Programs

07/25/2017 04:08 pm ET

A growing number of people throughout the United States are participating in training programs that equip them to create social enterprises, defined as businesses that strive to address diverse human needs. Many of these programs are run by university-based degree programs or private companies called accelerators that enable aspiring social entrepreneurs, with the financial means, to gain the knowledge and skills needed to create social enterprises. However, few training opportunities exist for low-income individuals that aspire to create social enterprises, particularly to advance development in their own communities.

In the award-winning research article, Social Enterprise Self-Employment Programs: A Two-Dimensional Human Capital Investment Strategy, I introduce the idea of creating social enterprise self-employment programs (social enterprise SEPs), which I define as institutions or programs within institutions that provide low-moderate income aspiring social entrepreneurs with social enterprise business planning skills and training. In essence, social enterprise SEPs would provide task-related training that prepares social entrepreneurs for the uniqueness of operating businesses that have both an economic and a social mission.

Task-related training is essential for running social enterprises, which differ from commercial enterprises in regards to their legal structure, marketing, financing, and evaluation of their impact. They tend to face distinct operational challenges such as product/service pricing and acquiring and retaining talented staff. In addition, social enterprises may be nonprofit organizations, for-profit businesses, or a combination of both. Thus, social enterprises face distinct legal challenges and operational idiosyncrasies that make proper education and training for social entrepreneurs critical to their success.

While many commercial enterprise self-employment programs (commercial enterprise SEPs) exist throughout the nation, there are few examples of social enterprise SEPs. Commercial enterprise SEPs have successfully improved the economic standing of many entrepreneurs, but their solely economic focus lacks the social benefit that social enterprises strive to achieve.

The goal of this article is to encourage social change agents to consider developing or further exploring the idea of social enterprise SEPs, as they may benefit low-income social entrepreneurs by:

• Providing the training and technical assistance needed for operating social enterprises

• Identifying appropriate legal forms (e.g. Benefit Corporation) for their operations

• Connecting them to social enterprise ecosystems that support their goals

• Working with them to identify and develop strategies for addressing community needs

• Assisting them in identifying and applying for funding opportunities

• Spreading awareness about social enterprise services

For more information about the potential of social enterprise SEPs or social enterprise in general, contact Dr. Rasheda L. Weaver at rlweaver@uvm.edu or follow her on Twitter @RLWeaverPhD.

***This blog article is based on the award-winning academic research article entitled “Social Enterprise Self-Employment Programs: A Two-Dimensional Human Capital Investment Strategy” that was published in the Social Enterprise Journal. The article was awarded “Highly Commended Paper” by the 2017 Emerald Liberati Network Awards for Excellence and is now freely available at the Social Enterprise Journal’s website until June 20, 2018. ***

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