A Game Changer: Social Enterprise

Words like “sustainability” and “social enterprise” are all the rage in some circles, but they often prove easier to talk than do. And for many nonprofits, creating a profit-generating enterprise just may not make sense. But when it is done well, social enterprise can be a game changer.

Want to know what that can look like? Several CAFO member organizations are at the cutting edge of social enterprise, where productive commerce intersects with care for orphans.

The Kansas City Business Journal this week carries a feature article on the Global Orphan Project. GO Project programs are making a huge difference for vulnerable children and families, both globally and in the U.S. foster system. But these programs aren’t funded solely from donations. Rather, an increasing portion of the fuel for GO Project’s mission comes from a t-shirt manufacturing enterprise. As the article describes, the GO Project:

“…Create[s] jobs through a business it runs called GOEX Apparel, which has operations in Haiti and Kansas City. It creates a variety of clothing — typically T-shirts, polos and hoodies — that are used by corporations, schools and churches for advertising. The clothing is manufactured in Haiti and then sent to Kansas City for screen printing, warehousing and fulfillment.”

This business not only generates funds for GO Project’s ongoing work. Just as important, it provides quality jobs – currently 31 in the US and 100 in Haiti – offering the dignity of good work to people seeking to break the cycle of poverty.

Other CAFO members are at the vanguard of social enterprise as well. Lifesong for Orphans was first formed by business owners, Gary and Marla Ringger, who direct profits from their flash freeze-drying business in Illinois (think of the strawberries in Special K cereal) to cover 100% of Lifesong’s overhead expenses. As Lifesong has grown, they’ve applied that same entrepreneurial spirit to build social enterprises into their orphan care projects overseas, also. This includes extensive strawberry farming operations in both Zambia and Ukraine, which help fund the local programs and also provide excellent job training opportunities and quality jobs.

Meanwhile, the Akola Project was created to help support Ugandan widows and other women who are caring for orphaned children in their homes.   Akola’s fine jewelry today is sold in some of America’s finest stores, including a special line in Neiman Marcus.

Akola’s founder, Brittany Underwood, will be speaking at the upcoming CAFO2017 Summit (May 4-5 in Nashville). Summit will also offer workshops on creating and growing effective social enterprises, where we’ll have the chance to learn from the GO Project, Lifesong and other leading innovators at the crossroads of orphan care and successful business.

Social enterprise isn’t a fit for every nonprofit. But when it is, there may be nothing better for simultaneously fueling the mission and creating job and training opportunities, quality products and more.