Thursday, September 1, 2011

How to become a Social Entrepreneur :)

Articles from INC.

Scott Harrison was 28 years old, sitting on a beach in Uruguay with a model girlfriend, a Rolex Watch and a BMW waiting nearby—a life the nightclub promoter in New York City had been chasing after for nearly 10 years—when he realized (in his own words) "what a selfish scumbag" he was. His entire adult life had been geared towards serving himself and the club patrons, and when he had done nothing to help others, it made him step back.

Seven years removed from that day on the beach, Harrison is still in New York , heading up Charity: Water a non-profit organization that has delivered clean drinking water to over 1 million underserved people in 17 different countries, and aspires to help more than 100 million in the next ten years. How serious of a problem is he tackling? In short, nearly a billion people on the planet don't have access to clean, safe drinking water (that's one in eight people). One of the most successful social entrepreneurs of our time, Harrison's visionary non-profit grew over 100% in the first quarter of 2011 (as compared to the same period in 2010), the economy be damned.

Brenda Palms Barber, Chicago's Queen of Second Chances, is dedicated to finding jobs for former prison inmates. But when the nonprofit she runs couldn't overcome employers' resistance to bringing on ex-offenders, she spun out a business so she could hire them herself.

North Lawndale Employment Network, or NLEN, is located in a west chicago neighborhood in which 57 percent of the population has done prison time. "People here don't talk about incarceration in a negative way," says Palms Barber, who is NLEN's executive director. "They don't say, 'My son is coming out of prison.' They just say, 'My son is coming back. And he needs a job.' "

But when Palms Barber, a career foundation worker, took charge of NLEN in 2000, persuading employers to take a chance on clients with a criminal record was a tall order. The only answer, she decided, was to launch her own business to hire and train former inmates. Hence, Sweet Beginnings, a wholly owned subsidiary of NLEN that produces honey and honey-based skin care products and is staffed almost entirely by ex-offenders. "I had to demonstrate that ex-offenders can be good workers," Palms Barber says. "They can also be good for your bottom line."

Palms Barber toyed with several business ideas (a temp agency, a landscaping company, a delivery service) before a board member introduced her to a friend who raised bees. "He told me beekeeping was a profession passed on by word of mouth," said Palms Barber. "I liked that, because people learn well by storytelling, especially when they have academic challenges." Sweet Beginnings launched in 2007 with $140,000 from the Illinois Department of Corrections. At first, the company sold honey at farmers' markets. But the 13 percent margin on honey was not enough to fulfill Palms Barber's second goal: to create a sustainable source of income for NLEN and free it from the unpredictable ebb and flow of grant funding. Honey-infused skin products were a more lucrative proposition.


How to Become a Social Entrepreneur: Know Your Issue

What made Harrison's mission different? While in Liberia taking photos, he recognized the one item that was causing sickness and even death for most of his subjects was something many of us take for granted, clean water. He saw it (people walking miles to get clean water), photographed it (including emails to club-promoting friends) and found his calling. When he returned to the U.S.A he knew what issue to tackle, and he has never looked back.

Regardless the issue, you need to be 100% in on it. "The biggest mistake I see most people make is that they're half-in, half-out," notes Harrison. It's great that you want to help others, but you need to know what you're doing. And it's not easy. So if you're not sure what to do, look into joining another existing non-profit until you find your passion.

As Sweet Beginnings it is an unexpected little company, tucked away in a neighborhood of vacant homes and boarded-up stores. In a pocket-size lot behind a chainlink fence, men and women wearing what look like modified hazmat suits tend an apiary humming with small, furry life. In addition to raising bees, former inmates perform jobs that include manufacturing, website management, sales, and customer service. Most work 90 days, although a few stay on as team leaders for a year or so. The perpetual turnover is not ideal from a management perspective, but it's the only way to provide experience and resumé entries for large numbers of people. Employees are paid minimum wage; payroll costs are subsidized by the city and the state.

With Sweet Beginnings on their resumés, roughly 85 percent of employees find an unsubsidized outside job, compared with around 50 percent of NLEN clients who have not worked at the honey business. More important to Palms Barber: Fewer than 4 percent of Sweet Beginnings's workers have landed back in prison, compared with a national average of 65 percent.

How to Become a Social Entrepreneur: Build the Brand

To get the message out, we had to create an epic brand that people could trust to do that."

For charity: water, it was about re-creating charity. He built a 100% model (finding separate donors to fund staff and operations) and wanted to show donors all the work they helped to fund. The first employee Harrison hired was in operations, and the second a designer who helped to build the brand from scratch, differentiating it from other charity websites. And for the name, he simply thought of what he was doing as charity and added whatever the first thought he had was, which unsurprisingly was water.

How to Become a Social Entrepreneur: Think of It As a Business

"The modern non-profit must adopt many of the same strategies, policies and best practices employed by successful enterprises in the for-profit world, but not at the cost of its soul," writes Scofield.

While it is important to function as a non-profit in legal terms, the most successful charities are well-run organizations, no different than for-profit companies but with a different business objective. Literally every element of your brand should be business-driven. For charity: water, their sleek New York office consists of donated goods but rivals any top creative agency, they employ sophisticated CRM software to learn more about their donors (like a salesperson would a client), and plenty more.

"I think of charity: water as a for-profit tech startup that has no profits," says Harrison. "We give away 100% of our profits. So the better year we have, the more people around the world have access to clean water. Our shareholders are people in 17 countries around the world waiting for a rig to drive into a village to provide clean water to a few hundred people living there. We use the word business so much more than non-profit, even though that's what we are."

For sweet beginners, today the company brings in about $100,000 a year in sales; it projects sales of $2 million in five years. The business sells its Beeline-branded products (soon to be renamed Beelove, for trademark reasons) at 13 Whole Foods stores—at which employees practice interacting with the public by handing out samples—in boutiques around the country, and at farmers' markets. Recently, Palms Barber negotiated a deal with the Chicago Peninsular Hotel part of the luxury chain, which will offer Sweet Beginnings's honey in its restaurant and tell the company's story on its website. And the Chicago Department of Aviation has agreed to house a Sweet Beginnings apiary and sell Beelove products at O'Hare International Airport.

Since 2007, about 200 former inmates—up to 15 a quarter—have worked at Sweet Beginnings, and, as the company grows, it will accommodate more.

James White worked on Sweet Beginnings's production floor in 2009. He was later hired by Christy Webber Landscaping and recently launched his own landscaping business. "All I had on my resumé was stuff I did when I was incarcerated, like librarian's assistant," says White. "Sweet Beginnings is a name people know. They taught me to be professional and dedicated to my job. If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be where I am."

Cheers :)

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