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What is REDF?

REDF (The Roberts Enterprise Development Fund) is a pioneering venture philanthropy that invests in employment social enterprises (ESEs) — businesses that provide jobs, training, and support to people breaking through barriers to employment. REDF partners with these businesses and the entrepreneurs who lead them — providing capital, capacity, and community — to amplify their transformative impact.

What challenge does REDF exist to solve?

Millions of people who are willing and able to work are excluded from the economy. People who have faced serious challenges in their lives struggle to get a foothold into the workforce. And if they are lucky enough to get in, they struggle to stay there and progress. They don’t just need a job; they need a job and the specialized supportive services that will help them succeed. Social enterprises provide both, and that is why REDF invests in them.

What makes REDF different?

REDF is distinctive as the only venture philanthropy in the United States that invests exclusively in social enterprises focused on employment. We advise them, measure their impact, develop their leaders, connect and build the field, and advance policies that help social enterprise businesses, and the people they employ and train, thrive. And we have one mission – jobs – for millions of people who cannot get work because of histories of homelessness, incarceration, mental illness, addication, or limited education.

In fact, REDF is the pioneer in the field, even creating the model of Social Return on Investment (SROI) to capture the financial and social value of a company. What began in 1997 as a family foundation has grown over 20 years into the REDF of today: the driving force of an entire employment-focused social enterprise movement.

REDF believes that the best job preparation is a real, wage-paying job in a real business, with wraparound support. REDF’s social enterprise partners employ people in order to train them for long-term, stable jobs that they otherwise would be unable to obtain.

So what is an employment social enterprise?

Employment social enterprises are businesses with a clear social mission, and they take their profits and invest it in helping people. These are businesses that both provide paying jobs and help employees stabilize their lives with extra services – ones that help them build their skills and develop a work history. Those services might include financial literacy classes, housing, personal counselling, and help with business attire or work uniforms. When employees are ready, social enterprises help them find, and keep, good jobs in the competitive market.

Yet, as businesses that must survive in the real world, social enterprises are different from traditional social service agencies. They are competitive places of commerce, built on quality goods or services people want. With a consumer niche and smart business savvy, social enterprises are able to make money and reinvest it to serve their mission of transforming lives. This is why REDF works so well: we harness the power of the market for social impact.

REDF chooses to invest specifically in employment social enterprises that have the explicit mission of hiring and supporting people who are overcoming significant barriers to work. And REDF succeeds where traditional workforce efforts often fall short because those programs simply do not meet the demands of employers or the needs of people facing formidable challenges.

Which populations do you help?

The employment social enterprises REDF partners with provide jobs and broader preparation for working life to people who:

• Have experienced homelessness/unstable housing
• Have been involved in the criminal justice system
• Have dealt with drug addiction
• Have mental health challenges
• Have refugee status
• Are survivors of domestic violence and/or human trafficking
• Have limited education (including young people who have left high school and are not working)

What does REDF do to support these social enterprises?

REDF invests money in the most effective and innovative employment social enterprises around, but that is just the start. We provide specialized advisory services to help their businesses and their employees thrive. That might include helping social enterprises refine their social business model, create new business lines, and establish the best managing practices.

And more broadly, REDF is fostering an entire community of social enterprise leaders by advising them on the best practices in the field, providing them resources to help their businesses, and developing future social enterprise leaders. We also advocate for increased capital for the launching and expansion of social enterprises, and we advance public policies that help social enterprises businesses, and the people they employ and train, thrive.

Why should I care about this right now?

REDF believes the employment social enterprise movement has tremendous potential, which could help millions of people find work, create a stronger and more inclusive society, and save taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent on safety net programs. When people work, we all gain on financial, moral and societal grounds.

REDF continues to expand our reach and deepen our impact – demonstrating the value of employment social enterprises, adding to the base of evidence, and creating a thriving ecosystem that includes social enterprises, business, philanthropy, and government working together.

What is REDF’S reach?

Since 1997, REDF has invested in and partnered with 238 social enterprises in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

What is REDF’S record of success?

Since its inception, REDF has supported 238 social enterprises in 33 states and DC, with businesses earning more than $1.3 billion in revenue and employing over 84,000 people (and counting).

This social enterprise investment pays off for society – $2.23 in benefits to society for every $1 invested.

The broader impact is in the lives transformed, as people find not just work but hope, pride, belonging, and self-sufficiency. When people work, we leverage all of the talent available to our country. Families and communities are stronger, and so is our society.

How can I take part?

If you are a business, you can purchase the goods and services of social enterprises, hire their employees, and embrace a more inclusive work environment as part of your company’s values.

If you are a funder, you can support REDF and support the employment social enterprise field.

If you are a social enterprise practitioner, service partner, workforce development professional, or just interested in the field, you can be part of the employment social enterprise movement, and join REDFworkshop, a community of people working together to build the field.

If you are a government official or policymaker, you can champion public policies that strengthen the social enterprise sector and promote economic stability for the people we serve.