03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

True Angels in the City of Angels: The Top 5 Social Enterprises in LA

It may be the image capital of the
planet, but Los Angeles itself suffers from a huge image problem.
If you watch cable news, LA is little more than the location for a never-ending
disaster movie: fires, gridlock, droughts, earthquakes, riots.
While New York cultivates writers and Chicago molds future presidents,
Los Angeles offers Octomom and Khloe Kardashian. In LA, Mario
Lopez actually passes for a journalist.

Yet, the City of Angels seems a well-deserved
name because it's a city that frequently prompts our better angels.
Despite the negative press, LA is a vibrant hub of ethnicities and ideas,
a thriving metropolis that spurs continuous innovation for the common
good. Among its 20 million residents, LA has nurtured a number
of remarkable hands-on social entrepreneurs. Indeed, the city
hosts some of the pioneering, pro-social organizations in the world.

These groups work across a wide spectrum
of issues from the micro- to the meta. Some are nonprofits, others
for-profits businesses. Despite their diversity, they share one
powerful trait: all strive to serve the public interest and strengthen
community through activism and action.

So who are the top social enterprises
in the Southland? Here is a short-list of the leading forces for positive
change, groups that work to repair the civic fabric in Los Angeles each
and every day. And, not only do they improve life in Southern
California, these organizations set the bar nationally and globally
for social innovation and human impact.

Education & Literacy
- If the California public education system is a catastrophic mess,
LA is ground zero for this disaster. The district's average score of
681 is 60 points below the state average. However, charter school operators
are changing the paradigm. In LA, Green
leads the pack.
Since 2000, it has created a new dynamic in primary education across
the Southland, one that is spreading to cities and towns all over America.
Green Dot has pioneered a compelling model that takes over large failing
institutions, breaking them up into smaller, nimble schools.
It then engages parents and teachers in a highly collaborative approach
that abolishes tenure and achieves dramatic results, such as test scores
that often exceed those of peer institutions in the district.
While many feel that Green Dot is still a work in progress, enigmatic
founder and education visionary Steve Barr has the ear of US Education
Secretary Arne Duncan and superintendents across the country who want
to import his model and understand his new path. Walking the halls
of a Green Dot school, you are struck by more than test scores - its
the sense of pride that pervades the environment and stays with you
long after a visit.

Runners up: Brightstar, Saber
es Poder

Environmental Activism
- LA is among the most environmentally conscious cities in the country.
It hosts offices for NRDC, Sierra Club and other national groups, yet Global Green has emerged as its leading contribution to
the worldwide movement to combat climate change. The US chapter
of Green
Cross International
, Global
Green is helmed by former Sacramento political aide Matt Petersen.
Under his leadership, Global Green has earned widespread recognition
for its hands-on involvement and relentless advocacy. Petersen
has enlisted A-list talent in his campaign to battle climate change
and build a better society. Leonardo
DiCaprio and Ed Norton sit on the Global Green board
. Brad
Pitt works with Global Green to spread the gospel of green design
in New Orleans
. Whether
hijacking the red carpet at the Oscars to promote sustainable consumerism
or managing an innovative demonstration center to promote residential
green building, Global Green sets the pace in LA and beyond.

Runners up: TreePeople, Heal
the Bay
, Living Homes

Civic Engagement -
Every city attempts to foster civic engagement. Here in LA, the
leading light in the field is City
Year Los Angeles
, the 18th
local franchise of the national organization. By now, community
service has become a bipartisan priority. It's been embedded
into federal policy, notably via the Edward
M. Kennedy Serve America Act

that was signed into legislation earlier this year. But look no
further than City Year to see the transformative magic of volunteerism
up close. The 150 young leaders recruited to spend a "gap year"
in Los Angeles are powerful examples of heroism. These individuals
spend almost 2,000 hours as tutors and mentors to at-risk children in
some of the most economically challenged neighborhoods across the city.
From their inspiring
opening ceremonies
to the
small acts of kindness that these role models perform every day in schools
all over the city, City Year LA earns high marks for its commitment,
discipline and integrity. Beyond the red jackets and Timberland
boots, the results speak for themselves: lower dropout rates, enhanced
civic energy, and higher participation in civic institutions.

Runners up: LA Works, United
Way (LA)

Global Development -
In a city whose residents hail from 140 countries, it should come as
no surprise that LA hosts a number of nonprofit groups who take a global
view of civic engagement. Among those organizations working to
enable sustainable livelihoods around the world, International Medical Corps ranks as the most impressive in the LA area.
For 25 years, IMC has worked to build the institutions overseas that
relieve suffering on an ongoing basis. IMC was founded in 1984
by Dr. Robert Simon, a UCLA physician, who sought to build medical training
facilities in Afghanistan as the country sought to rebuild after the
trauma of the Soviet invasion. Since then, IMC has expanded its work
to 25 countries, encompassing some of the most desolate and war-torn
regions of the world. As documented in their stunning new book, A Thousand Words, their singular focus on helping post-conflict
communities achieve long-term self-reliance is inspiring and worthwhile.

Runners up: Jewish World Watch, Operation

Poverty Alleviation -
Among many groups seeking to break the cycle of poverty, Chrysalis stands out for its extremely innovative model
of aiding economically disadvantaged and homeless people attain self-sufficiency
through employment. Launched in 1984 by former investment banker Adlai
Wertman, Chrysalis boasts an alumni network of 30,000 individuals that
have been impacted through its programming which spans pre- to post-employment.
But Chrysalis is most notable because its work is fueled by the revenue
generated via Chrysalis
, its network
of wholly-owned businesses that employ more than 1,500 people.
The companies include Chrysalis Works, a professional street maintenance
service and Chrysalis
, a temporary staffing
agency that allows clients to reenter the job market through short-
and long-term temporary work assignment. With its successful
earned income model, Chrysalis is considered among the most effective
job-creation programs in the US.

Runners Up: Liberty Hill, New
Economics for Women (NEW)

This is my short list of the leading
social enterprises of Los Angeles. What groups have I missed?
What categories have I omitted? Use the comments section below'
to add your thoughts, challenge my points, and build a conversation.
Let's shift from monologue to dialogue and create a guide to social
justice and community enrichment here in the City of Angels.