Skip to content
Home Search

Our Story

20+ years of impact

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. 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.

REDF has benefited greatly from the strong leadership, creativity and innovation of its founding team–REDF’s first President Jed Emerson, and Melinda Tuan who was a founding partner, and then succeeded him as President; and Cynthia Gair who laid the groundwork for REDF’s venture philanthropy and social return on investment work, and served as President during a critical transition period. Kristen Burns came on board as President when Melinda moved to the east coast, and led REDF as it changed from a foundation to a nonprofit in 2004. Carla Javits, the current CEO started in 2007, supporting the growth of REDF into a national organization and leader in the employment social enterprise field. REDF has also been fortunate to have the support of an extraordinary, committed, diverse Board of Directors, anchored by its’ Chairman George Roberts, and Vice Chairman Stuart Davidson, as well as an active Advisory Council.

In 2021, REDF launched a bold five year strategy focused on building a more inclusive economy. Toward that goal, in June we welcomed Maria Kim to the organization’s executive leadership team, partnering with CEO Carla Javits in a new stand-alone role of  President. As former President and CEO of Cara Collective, a Chicago-based social enterprise that was part of REDF’s 2016 National Portfolio of leading social enterprises, Maria brings a wealth of on-the-ground experience and expertise to REDF that will greatly inform and amplify our work.


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 homeless individuals.


Published the First Book on Social Enterprise Experience

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.


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 160 young people to the social enterprise field. Sixty percent of Farber graduates now work in organizations with a social focus.


Pioneering Social Return on Investment

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 Step-Up Award to honor the dedication and courage of social enterprise employees who have overcome significant disadvantage to transform their lives and strengthen their communities.


Gaining Significant Public Funding: Social Innovation Fund Grant

REDF was one of 11 organizations to receive the inaugural SIF grant, totaling $7.5 million over five years from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The grant allowed REDF to expand to Los Angeles and beyond.


Creating a Social Enterprise Community

REDF launched SE4Jobs, a national network of employment-focused social enterprise businesses that has over 900 individual members from the academic, business, government, consulting, and enterprise sectors in 45 states and 14 countries.


Expanding Beyond the Bay Area

REDF opened our Los Angeles office in order to better serve our social enterprise partners down south and to begin building a regional ecosystem supportive of employment-focused social enterprise.


Influencing Philanthropy

REDF’s 2008 article “Out of Philanthropy’s Funding Maze: Roadmap #1, Strategic Co-Funding” suggested that philanthropy could adapt investor approaches to increase impact. In 2012, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations used the updated paper to encourage co-funding.


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. With over 17,000 unique visitors to date, is fast becoming the go-to technology platform for the social enterprise industry.


Expanding Nationally to Employ 50,000 People by 2020

With backing from a $7 million Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant, REDF announced our first national portfolio; expanded the national reach of our advisory services; increased our 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 early-stage employment-focused social enterprise leaders to 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. REDF is demonstrating a model for how flexible loan terms combined with technical assistance can improve borrower performance and attract new sources of capital to employment social enterprises.


Investing in Growth

REDF receives largest single foundation grant, partnering with Citi Foundation to expand the social enterprise model across the U.S.


Ambitious Goals Exceeded

Bolstered by the generous support of our donors and funders, REDF and its 186 employment social enterprise partners exceeded its 2016-2020 goal by more than 20%—with 61,000+ people employed. REDF’s Growth Portfolio partners reach $1 billion in earned revenue.


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.


New Five Year Strategy

REDF revamps 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.