About > Our Story
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 2006, 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.
Created by visionary financier and philanthropist George Roberts and his wife Leanne, serving Bay Area nonprofits dedicated to improving public education and combating poverty.
Led by George Roberts and founding executive director Jed Emerson, supporting Bay Area nonprofits to expand opportunities for homeless individuals.
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.
Created by George Roberts after HEDF concluded its projects, REDF is the first venture philanthropy dedicated to investing in and supporting social enterprises.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
REDF launched REDFworkshop.org, a unique online platform with specialized resources to grow the social enterprise field. With over 17,000 unique visitors to date, REDFworkshop.org is fast becoming the go-to technology platform for the social enterprise industry.
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.
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
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.
REDF receives largest single foundation grant, partnering with Citi Foundation to expand the social enterprise model across the U.S.