Two of REDF’s hallmarks are our commitment to creating jobs and employment pathways for people that are facing multiple barriers to work and our dedication to measuring social impact and using that data to improve practice.
In service of these hallmarks, we’ve developed innovative methods to measure impact, such as Social Return On Investment (SROI). We’ve also conducted interviews with REDF portfolio social enterprise employees 18+ months after hire that showed increases in hourly wages, income, and employment. Based on this preliminary data, we were awarded a Social Innovation Fund grant to help scale social enterprise and increase its base of evidence.
Now, we are doing even more to measure impact.
Working with Mathematica Policy Research, in 2011 we launched the Mathematica Jobs Study (MJS) to evaluate the social enterprise model and it social outcomes. Eight of REDF’s portfolio groups participated in MJS, including over 500 social enterprise employees. Thank you to everyone who has contributed and allowed their stories to be shared so that we can learn.
Today, MJS consists of 4 studies – Implementation, Outcomes, Quasi-Experimental Design, and Cost-Benefit Analysis – leveraging data to maximize our learning. We are contributing new evidence on data-driven decision-making and innovative field survey methods to the field.
We’ve focused on making the evaluation meaningful since the start of MJS – useful for us, our portfolio, and the field. In that spirit, we didn’t want to wait for all 4 studies to be finished before we got any results.
So we added an Interim Report and it’s here!
What does the report say? After talking with REDF staff, portfolio, funders, advisors, and our SE4Jobs Network, I’ve settled on this headline: Good news – we’re employing people that really need a job, their lives improve while they’re working, and this work is challenging.
REDF social enterprises employ people that face multiple barriers to work and, on average, are less ready to work than others seeking employment services from the same organizations. Employees were more likely to rely on temporary housing, more likely to have a criminal conviction, and more likely to have incomes below 200% of the poverty level.
Most employees valued their social enterprise employment and their lives improve while working. Housing stability increased by 75%. Only 4% of workers reported an arrest while working. And income increased with large increases in earned income.
MJS reflects what many practitioners already know anecdotally, supporting employees while they are working is not simple. The job’s skill level and configuration of the support services each presents specific challenges. Some in REDF’s portfolio struggled to implement transitional models for both employee and business success reasons, e.g. Are the employees prepared for transition? Can the business afford to lose its talent? Social enterprises also faced challenges using the data strategically. This finding strikes near to my heart as I know that all of us in the social enterprise arena are eager to use data to improve outcomes, which is why I am excited about this Interim Report.
We know evaluation and data analysis is a big undertaking, and we look forward to partnering with our portfolio to integrate the data and learnings into their regular decision-making processes. Less than a year after the MJS site visits, we can already see portfolio groups using data more to change practice. Now we are able to pass on even more lessons to practitioners, donors, and businesses. Please engage in the dialogue so we can accomplish even more.