Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Value of Going Deep in Transitional Employment Faith Ventures

Scalable impact has always been the mantra of social enterprise. How can a project be organized to maximize its societal benefit for each dollar spent while being able to accommodate growth without impacting marginal costs.

As I talk with aspiring social enterprises practitioners, one question consistently reappears: Do I try to build a venture that maximizes employment opportunities or do I build a venture that maximizes the impact of each position? Individual organizations will answer that question differently depending on their mission and goals. 

But for enterprises seeking to create employment opportunities for people rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness and prison, a model that emphasizes investing more resources on fewer individuals creates better results...especially for faith-based initiatives. But this belief sometimes causes problems in attracting resources from foundations that emphasize looking at the cost per person served as a measuring line for organizational effectiveness. 

That is one reason why the earned income component to this type of social enterprise is so important. It helps provide freedom for the organization to invest more per person in both physical and spiritual resources. But even foundations can come around to this type of thinking when the benefit side of the cost analysis is emphasized. When we employ and train individuals with large barriers to employability and then successfully transition them to self-sufficiency in the broader job market, the benefits flow not only to the employee but to their family, to future generations and to the community at large. The impact of a job is contagious with far-ranging benefits that need to be measured, explained and celebrated. When you work with communities with difficult challenges to overcome, going deep results in a super-sized impact.

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