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25+ years of impact

From California-Based Funder to Leading a National Movement

When George R. Roberts launched REDF in 1997 to expand job development programs for people striving to overcome serious employment barriers, his goal was visionary: invest in employment 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. 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 employed and lives changed. As envisioned by Roberts, REDF proposed an alternative that filled existing gaps in the workforce system – investing in revenue-generating businesses that employ individuals overcoming steep barriers to employment.

When it was founded in 1997, REDF supported 14 businesses across the San Francisco Bay Area. 25 years later, REDF is a national organization and leader in the employment social enterprise field that has provided capital, capacity, and community to over 200 enterprises across 33 states and DC. Together, these businesses have generated over $1.3 billion in revenue reinvested in their employees and employed over 84,000 people.


Launch of the Roberts Family Foundation

Created by visionary financier and philanthropist George Roberts and his wife Leanne, serving Bay Area nonprofits dedicated to improving public education and combating poverty.


Launch of the Homeless Economic Development Fund (HEDF)

Led by George Roberts and founding executive director Jed Emerson, supporting Bay Area nonprofits to expand opportunities for people experiencing homeless.


Published the First Book on Social Enterprise Experience

Written and published by HEDF, New Social Entrepreneurs: The Success, Challenges, and Lessons of Nonprofit Social Enterprise Creation was a seminal publication that profiled the experiences of an early group of social entrepreneurs in order to inform and grow this emerging field.


Launch of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF)

Created by George Roberts after HEDF concluded its projects, REDF is the first venture philanthropy dedicated to investing in and supporting social enterprises. The founding team included REDF’s first President Jed Emerson and Melinda Tuan, who later succeeded him as President.


Investing in the Next Generation of Social Purpose Leaders

REDF established the Farber Internship Program in honor of entrepreneurial pioneer Michael E. Farber. To date, this program has introduced over 190 young people to the social enterprise field.


Pioneering Social Return on Investment

Under the leadership of President Cynthia Gair, REDF pioneered the concept and practice of calculating Social Return on Investment (SROI), which provides a metric for quantifying nonprofits’ financial and social values that has since been adopted globally.


Published the First Book on Social Enterprise Practice

Social Purpose Enterprise and Venture Philanthropy in the New Millennium offered one of the earliest examples of a funder publicly shedding light on failures as well as successes, and amplifying the voice of practitioners on an equal footing with investors. Its practical lessons firmly positioned REDF and its network as catalysts of the social enterprise movement.


Honoring Social Enterprise Employees

REDF created the Stuart G. Moldaw Award to honor the dedication and courage of social enterprise employees who have overcome significant disadvantage to transform their lives and strengthen their communities.


Establishment of Independent Nonprofit

REDF’s methods and reputation had grown, enabling it to convert from a family foundation to the independent nonprofit it is today. President Kristen Burns helped lead the transition.


Welcoming Carla Javits

After 16 years leading the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Carla Javits joins REDF as President & CEO, bringing a unique combination of on-the-ground experience and deep policy expertise to advance REDF’s mission.


Gaining Significant Public Funding

Under the leadership of President & CEO Carla Javits, REDF was one of 11 organizations across the country to receive the inaugural Social Innovation Fund grant, totaling $7.5 million over five years from the Corporation for National and Community Service.


Expanding Beyond the Bay Area

Beginning to reach critical mass in Southern California, REDF opened our Los Angeles to advance our work to build  a regional ecosystem of employment social enterprises.


Building the Evidence Base

REDF released the results of the Mathematica Jobs Study, the most rigorous evaluation ever mounted on the efficacy of the social enterprise model. The study showed that social enterprise employment dramatically improves lives and provides a significant social return on investment—$2.23 for every $1.00 invested in social enterprise.


Building a Social Enterprise Ecosystem

Created by REDF and the City of Los Angeles Workforce Development Board, LA:RISE is a unique collaboration uniting the city’s Workforce Development System with nonprofit social enterprises and for-profit employers to improve outcomes for people striving to overcome employment barriers.


Creating a Platform to Build the Field

REDF launched, a unique online platform with specialized resources to grow the social enterprise field.


Expanding Nationally to Employ 50,000 People by 2020

With backing from an additional $7 million Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant, REDF announced its first national portfolio; expanded the national reach of its advisory services; increased funding of high-performing social enterprises across the U.S.; and built partnerships with businesses, philanthropy, human services, and government.


Accelerating Impact

REDF launched the first of its kind Accelerator program, specifically designed for the leaders of early-stage employment social enterprises to help them grow their businesses and create more opportunity in their communities


Launching an Impact Lending Practice

In response to demand from our employment social enterprise partners, REDF launched its Impact Lending Practice in 2017 to provide an important tool to accelerate the growth of the field.


Forming the REDF Impact Investing Fund

REDF Impact Investing Fund, a separate 501(c)3, is formed to provide flexible loan terms combined with capacity building to employment social enterprises so they can seize new opportunities, grow to employ more people, and attract new sources of capital.


Ambitious Goals Exceeded

Bolstered by the generous support of our donors and funders and driven by our partnership with 186 employment social enterprises around the country, REDF  exceeds its 2016-2020 goal early and by more than 20%.


Responding to the Pandemic

REDF deploys $850K in COVID-19 Relief Grants to 25 ESEs across the U.S. and partners with the County of Los Angeles to distribute $46 million in CARES Act funding to over 1,400 social enterprises, small businesses, and non-profits.


Expanding SNAP Employment & Training Services

REDF receives a $1.2 million grant from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to create a program that expands ESEs’ capacity to provide on-the-job training and work experience to SNAP recipients nationwide.


Equity-Focused Five Year Strategy

REDF introduces its 2021-2025 strategy to advance racial equity and economic mobility – increasing investments in ESEs led by people of color and those who share the lived experience of the people they employ, providing specialized capacity-building consulting, deepening its focus on job quality, and catalyzing demand from the public sector and philanthropy.


Investing in Growth

REDF launches its national Growth Portfolio – a cohort of ESEs with ambitious growth goals. Each grantee will receive three years of unrestricted grant funding, tailored capacity-building support, and hands-on coaching to drive sustainable growth.


Codifying ESEs in Law

REDF-sponsored legislation SB 779 is signed into law in California, naming ESEs as a recognized program under the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA). The trailblazing legislative win opens state funding opportunities to ESEs.


Welcoming Maria Kim as President

REDF welcomes employment social enterprise leader Maria Kim in a new stand-alone role of President. As former President & CEO of Cara Collective, a Chicago-based ESE that was part of REDF’s 2016 Venture Philanthropy Portfolio, Maria brings 16 years of on-the-ground expertise to propel REDF forward and realize the promise of its 2021-2025 strategy.


REDF Impact Investing Fund Certified as Community Development Financial Institution

The U.S. Treasury certifies RIIF as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), dramatically increasing the Fund’s access to capital to support leaders of color and leaders with lived experience.


Governor Newsom, California Lawmakers Approve $25 Million to Launch CA RISE. REDF selected to serve as program lead

The California Regional Initiative for Social Enterprise (CA RISE) marks the nation’s first statewide investment in the proven power of employment social enterprises. REDF is selected by the California Office of the Small Business Advocate to serve as program lead for the program, which includes delivering customized capacity building support to all CA RISE grantees.


Momentous Milestone Reached

Since 1997, the ESEs REDF has partnered with have collectively employed 100,000 people and earned $2 billion in revenue to be reinvested in their employees.


Maria Kim Among 14 Distinguished Appointees to U.S. Small Business Administration Investment Capital Advisory Committee

The inaugural committee’s main objective is to promote, expand, and strengthen the ecosystem of private funds financing U.S. small businesses and startups, to fund entrepreneurs and small business owners from traditionally underserved communities.


REDF Receives Transformative $10 Million Gift from MacKenzie Scott

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott awards REDF a grant of $10 million through her charitable organization Yield Giving. Scott’s unrestricted gift will help REDF advance its bold five-year strategy to build the national field of employment social enterprises and prioritize investing in BIPOC entrepreneurs and leaders with the lived experience of the people they employ to create a more inclusive economy.