social entrepreneurSocial Entrepreneurship is working its way into more and more local communities within the US. Spokane, Washington is one of a growing number of communities taking part in a changing global model of how non-profits do business. For those who are not familiar, social entrepreneurship is the business model is based on creating sustainable, profitable companies that are then used to create social change. Two traditional examples of social entrepreneurship in action in the United States are the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries. Both provide jobs and training, integrate within their communities, and are sustainable, taking more than 50% of their revenue from local patrons.

In tough economic times, other non-profits that normally fund most of their work through contributions from donors are seeing that funding dry up. Additionally, they are seeing a drop in volunteer numbers. No longer able to rely on the prior way of doing business, smaller non-profit organizations are looking past the old models and trying to view social impact through the lens of the entrepreneur.

For example, the Christ Kitchen started with taking donations to help impoverished women get back on their feet. They quickly learned they needed to focus on putting these women to work and created three businesses towards that end, including a restaurant, a catering company, and a pre-packaged soup and dessert mix company. Each employs local women and provides them with steady income. The collaborative nature of the businesses allows women who have been the victims of violence, homelessness, and addiction to learn actionable skills and enjoy gainful employment in a safe and mutually supportive environment.

Cup of Cool Water focuses on at-risk teens. Shortly after they began, they added a for-profit bike shop in 2007. Here, teens can serve as apprentices and learn to service and repair bicycles, prepping them for work outside in the community and laying the groundwork for them to work in other shops the company hopes to open in the future.

This idea of having for-profit divisions of non-profits serves the central community message and turns the concept of generating money for private value towards generating money for the larger social good. Revenues generate support for salaries, social programs, and awareness campaigns. These companies also create bridge industries for underserved populations, providing invaluable skills training as a stepping-stone to conventional employment. Ultimately, it gives these new non-profits a platform of stability and self-sufficiency in a tumultuous economy.

The longstanding edge of the entrepreneur is that they are able to see opportunities in every situation and have a unique way of turning problems into solutions. That innovation is a quality that has stagnated in older non-profits, who have primarily courted big-fish donors and have not been pushed by adversity to embrace smaller, more nimble money-making opportunities. The ability to collaborate and diversify sources of income generation gives more chances to accomplish noble goals.

Being able to operate with the same business savvy and creative strategy as the for-profit sector is leading to smaller, smarter organization who can direct their own course, interact and partner with each other, while remaining united under the larger altruistic banner of community service.

Is there a change you want to see in your own community? Are there ways of looking at the problem through an entrepreneurial lens? What creative ways can you think of to generate funding for change? How can you use this model to impact your city or town?

Got something in mind? Our Revolution week and the launch of How to Create a Revolution starts on Thursday . Make it happen and tell us about it. We can all be social entrepreneurs if we just put our heads together. Good luck!

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