Introduction to the Series
Recently REDF brought together our portfolio of social enterprises from around the country for a two-day gathering to provide our groups the opportunity to learn from and support each other, create valuable connections, and identify common challenges they want to tackle together in the year ahead. Here’s the first of a series of blog posts in which retreat participants share what coming together with their social enterprise colleagues meant to them.
Nicole Simoneaux VP, Investments & Advisory Services, REDF
Creating Impact That Goes Beyond.
Dana Emanuel, New Moms, Chicago
As Assistant Director of Workforce Development at New Moms in Chicago, I manage the programmatic side of our workforce program as well as their social enterprise candle-making business called Bright Endeavors. My aim is to accomplish the goals of both elements simultaneously.
For the young moms that we serve, being part of the REDF national portfolio lends additional significance to their hard work. Our incredible young moms are often parenting solo, getting their kids up, dressed and dropped off to daycare before dawn, traveling as much as two hours via public transit to arrive in time for training. All before 9:30 am! They spend their day making candles and working on their professional skills, in preparation for obtaining a permanent job. So, when a national organization like REDF partners with us, it tells our participants that they are making an impact that goes beyond their families. It tells them they are part of a big, supportive community that cares about them. When REDF comes to visit monthly, or to film our production floor, or interview participants, it makes them feel like their hard work is recognized beyond just New Moms—that others are inspired by their hard work and are rooting for their success.
As a member of REDF’s national portfolio New Moms now has access to a community of colleagues across the country who can share with us their best practices, lessons learned, and support navigating the inherent challenges of growing a social enterprise. It also gives us a true partner—our REDF portfolio manager is a phone call away—with the technical business acumen that helps us become a better business.
Tools, Tips, Techniques: Practical Takeaways
The practical aspects of REDF’s national portfolio retreat were incredibly valuable for me in my role at New Moms. Thanks to REDF’S technical assistance and consulting resources, we now have a social media strategy to implement. I learned that when it comes to social media, unless you do something really taboo, you can’t mess it up. So I’m eager to jump in, starting by increasing our frequency on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook. I learned how to seek out and engage social media influencers. Plus I learned how to reach my audience and engage them with a variety of posts about the different aspects of work at Bright Endeavors: the product, the mission, the production, and especially the people.
This year at Bright Endeavors we focused a lot of energy on job search programming and employer engagement, so it was good to hear tips from others who have robust employer partnerships or excel at participant-led job search. We were able to see a variety of ways social enterprises are moving participants into permanent job placement, ranging from self-directed job search, supported job search, direct employment pipelines, to building your own staffing firm social enterprise.
Another practical takeaway is the framework and tools REDF shared for evaluating social enterprise growth opportunities. As we look to expand Bright Endeavors and our ability to provide young moms with workforce tools & training, these practical tools and techniques, in addition to those provided on REDFworkshop.org, will help us evaluate growth opportunities. This framework gave us valuable insights into thinking about our growth trajectory & evaluating new opportunities for sustainability. And since we are working on a double bottom line financial reporting right now, this tied in nicely to our current work.
Putting the Social in Social Enterprise
Possibly the most valuable part of the retreat was the ability to meet other social enterprise practitioners and share information with them. This group of 22 Social Innovation Fund portfolio organizations represents just a portion of the work done by social enterprises across the country. Social enterprise practitioners are passionate, informed, and thoughtful about systems, policies, and broad impact. REDF is bringing stakeholders together in meaningful, intentional ways and sparking community & conversation that will grow this community —allowing us all to improve our outcomes.
I was energized learning about the similarities between our social enterprise and others—how they have worked through challenges we’re currently facing, and sharing with them our own ideas at Bright Endeavors for how we’ve excelled in areas they might still be figuring out. For example, we’ve already used some of the suggested community-building exercises our friends at Mile High Workshop use daily with their participants. Hearing about how other social enterprises develop educational programming, built-in steps for participants to advance within the organization, wraparound services offered for youth or women in particular: all these techniques helped us feel connected to other experts in the field. When we want to implement new programs and procedures, we now know whom to contact.
There’s serendipity in these conferences as well. For example, we realized how much we have in common with organizations like Women’s Bean Project in Denver. From their work exclusively with women, their staff structure & size, to their light manufacturing production floor, to their inventory management & accounting systems, sales channel strategies, website, shipping practices, social media—we have so much to learn from and share with each other. Recognition of our shared work also came with a great sense of relief—someone else TRULY gets it—and excitement. Wow, we really CAN help each other in very practical ways!
About Dana Emanuel and New Moms, Chicago
Dana Emanuel, Assistant Director of Workforce Development at New Moms in Chicago, has worked with socially conscious businesses since she graduated from college. Some, like Whole Foods Market can bring to bear significant corporate resources to partner with local communities. Others like farmer-owned, fair trade Divine Chocolate, are dedicated to building a sustainable livelihood for cacao growers in Ghana. Uniting them all is Emanuel’s belief in the importance of double and triple bottom line values of economic empowerment, environmental awareness, and social impact.
New Moms transforms the lives of young moms and their children by providing comprehensive services including transitional housing, prenatal, early childhood, & parenting supports, and workforce development. Their social enterprise, Bright Endeavors, provides workforce training and transitional jobs for these young mothers who make handcrafted candles.