“If you don’t have a job, you don’t have hope. If you don’t have hope, what do you really have?” – George R. Roberts.
These days, it’s commonplace to hear successful business people suggest market-oriented solutions to social issues.
When George R. Roberts launched REDF in 1997 to expand job development programs for those who faced the greatest difficulties getting and holding onto a job, his goal was visionary: invest in social enterprises that create jobs and reinvest their earnings in skill development, training, and services for their employees.
The strategy to reach this goal was shaped with a unique combination of social mission and private sector experience. The Roberts’ family foundation created the Homeless Economic Development Fund (HEDF), which supported a wide variety of employment-related nonprofits from 1990 to 1996. When HEDF concluded its projects, it identified social enterprise focused on employment as having the most promise. In 1997, The Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) was formed with a mandate to launch and grow social enterprises. By 2004, REDF’s methods and reputation had grown, enabling it to convert from a family foundation to the independent nonprofit it is today.
Using the principles he developed while leading KKR, the global private equity investment firm he co-founded, Roberts structured REDF to undertake venture philanthropy, with the mindset of an investor, and an expected return measured in people with jobs and lives changed. As envisioned by Roberts, REDF proposed an alternative to band-aid solutions that failed to address the intractable problem of persistent joblessness. "I could see how the power and proven practices of the business world could be applied to this problem to bring real solutions," Roberts said. This meant working with real businesses, an investment-like approach, and a commitment to measure results and double down on what works.