What About Jobs?

A Year-End Reflection by Carla Javits, REDF President

A few years ago, job creation was not a major topic of conversation. But, times have really changed. Or have they?

As recently as July, Catherine Rampell reported on the New York Times blog:
In May, the National Journal published a report on economic coverage in the five largest newspapers in the country by print circulation…They did this by searching for the words “unemployment” and “deficit”…. it did show that over the last two years, the number of articles on “unemployment” had fallen while those on the ‘deficit’ had exploded.
Despite the media’s blind eye, with more than 13 million Americans officially unemployed, and millions more discouraged from looking for work, everyone from the “Occupiers” to the “Tea Partiers” agree that America must create a lot more jobs now and into the future if we are to remain the land of opportunity.

That mandate has always been at the center of REDF’s work, because the people that are employed by the social enterprises REDF supports had little or no chance of getting a job even in a good economy due to their experiences with homelessness, incarceration, addiction, or mental illness.

Courageous nonprofit leaders, frustrated by the chronic unemployment of people who clearly needed jobs and were ready, willing, and able to work took it upon themselves to create jobs by starting businesses.

As 2011 dawned, those of us working in this arena had an urgent sense of determination to take social enterprise to a much larger scale and create a sustainable model that will reliably create jobs as a pathway into the workforce for hundreds of thousands of people.

Continued distress in the economy exacerbated an already bleak outlook for those facing the greatest barriers to work. But these same dire straits have also opened the door for considering new solutions to problems like chronic unemployment. Solutions like social enterprise that leverage private and public philanthropic investment with earned income while providing not just a job, but the support to help individuals successfully enter the workforce. Solutions like social impact bonds – pay-for-performance – that distribute the risk of investing in new programs away from government and to impact investors.

As we move into 2012, REDF is poised to break new ground for social enterprise in California while demonstrating how social enterprise can contribute to kick starting the American economy. With nine nonprofits in REDF’s portfolio – four in Northern and five in Southern California – and as the chief convener of a national network of social enterprise job creators called SE4Jobs, REDF is innovating in new ways and establishing the kinds of partnerships that will help take social enterprise to scale.

With tremendous gratitude for your support – all of us at REDF wish you happy holidays! Here’s to the work ahead – and more work for everyone – in the new year!