Social enterprise may offer answers to poverty

May 16, 2014

A new way to address poverty issues in Haywood is emerging from Haywood Helps, the anti-poverty effort that began this spring with a community wide meeting.

The initiative has the ambitious goal of eradicating the scourge of poverty by offering a hand-up, not a hand-out to those who don’t have jobs or don’t make enough money in the jobs they have to earn a living wage.

Any program of this scale requires funding, and aside from start-up grant money, the group is following a business model known as social enterprise as a way to fund the anti-poverty programs to be started or already in place.

Social enterprise is a business just like other models with one major exception — the profits from the undertaking are used to support the mission statement, which has an altruistic goal. Simply put, social enterprise is business that operates for the common good.

While not commonly referred to as social enterprises, there are a number of successful models already operating in the county. Haywood Vocational Opportunities is known in almost every part of the county, as well as world-wide, where markets have been developed for the sterile, surgical draping produced at the Hazelwood facility.

The social enterprise model is based on providing jobs for those who may otherwise not be considered for employment because of varying levels of disabilities. In addition to providing training and jobs for the target population, there are supervisor jobs available to community residents, marketing and administrative positions and sales that generate positive ripple effects across the local economy.

Any of the thrift stores in our community that funnel proceeds back into programs to feed, clothe or provide heat, offer a safe haven for those who are abused or help those who need housing build their own operate on a social enterprise model.

There is an advantage to social enterprise that may not be necessarily shared by those operating under a traditional business model. That is, the eagerness of others to help make the enterprise a success.

A recent national conference highlighted the untold models for operations that focus on food, crafts, cleaning services, agriculture, housing or manufacturing or practically any aspect of business that can be conceived.

There were numerous stories about individuals such as lawyers or accountants or bankers eager to give back to their community on a pro-bono basis to help the enterprise succeed.

There were other examples of local government or other businesses who were willing to share equipment or offer space where the social enterprise could get a good start, thus creating a stream of revenue that illustrates the model is a good one when lending agencies were approached.

In Haywood, social enterprise ideas have already been proposed to address the lack of a day labor system in the county, investigated the prospect of selling bottled water, looked at ways to help both struggling artists and examined the possibility of value-added manufacturing for the plentiful agriculture products in the region.

For those interested in learning more, or who have other ideas that deserve to be explored, there are plenty of opportunities to become involved.

Send an email to news@themountaineer.com to learn about future meetings.

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