In 2011, REDF set an ambitious five year goal for itself and the social enterprises it invests in. Help 2,500 more people who face the greatest barriers to work, get jobs and on a career path. We are proud to announce we have already reached the goal. REDF has always had a commitment to invest in what works, and to share our knowledge of best practices in order to help even more people enter the workforce. But it’s because of the hard work and dedication of our partners that we can celebrate this impact. So we wanted to know what our portfolio of social enterprises were doing right and what they’ve learned. Here is one of those stories.
Chrysalis could well be a poster child for social enterprise. The organization has been around since 1984. To address the chronic problem of homelessness, in 1991 they launched Chrysalis Enterprises, a social enterprise that provides transitional jobs for people who—due to a history of homelessness, poverty, incarceration, drug abuse and lack of a high school diploma—face significant barriers to employment. In 2014, with the help of Chrysalis’ employment program, over 2,000 clients found jobs in neighborhoods around LA. 500 of these were employed by the agency directly.
Since partnering with REDF in 2011, Chrysalis’ social enterprise revenue grew more than 54% while labor hours available to program participants rose 56%. To learn what was working at Chrysalis, we spoke to Trevor Kale, Vice President of Chrysalis Enterprises.
“An important lesson we’ve learned is to focus on doing one thing well,” Trevor Kale says. “If you are successful in one area, it is tempting to stray outside your strength.”
Instead of spinning wheels and wasting effort, Kale says, Chrysalis has learned to focus on particular areas of core strength. “We’ve carved out a unique space in professional street cleaning services, and in a staffing business that provides front desk and janitorial services to non-profit organizations and affordable housing agencies.”
Because the services Chrysalis provides through their social enterprises are—at the end of the day—a business, Kale says it’s important to deliver on the business side of the equation. “Our customers like our mission but they have an eye on the bottom line. They need quality at a fair price or they go elsewhere. So you have to deliver on your promises.”
To make sure that promise is kept, Chrysalis emphasizes customer satisfaction. Chrysalis provides “significantly better-than-industry-standard customer service,” Kale says. “We don’t return a call in a day, we return calls within the hour.”
That kind of superior customer service builds a cushion of good will that helps protect the business relationship when something goes wrong. “Some of the people we employ work harder than anyone you’ve ever seen,” Kale says, while others are just getting started in the work force, and struggle with the logistics of simply showing up on time. When problems crop up, as they inevitably will, a track record of exemplary customer service can help preserve the longevity of service contracts.
Kale believes Chrysalis owes its recent growth as a social enterprise to its ability to attract top talent to help run the organization. Kale knows Chrysalis is competing with the Accentures, Deloittes and McKinseys of the world who are also recruiting from the same pool of MBAs. Chrysalis’ ace in the hole? People come to Chrysalis to do something they believe in. “Today, kids coming out of business schools are thirsty for impact,” Kale says. Savvy social enterprises will make sure they speak to that desire when they are reaching out to potential job candidates. Kale’s advice: “You have to connect with candidates when they are in business schools. Offer them internships. And when you’re ready to hire, pay them! You are going to get value. So you have to pay fairly.”
Kale knows a social enterprise won’t be able to compete on salary with consultancies offering a hundred thousand a year. However, social enterprises offer something different, and better—a chance to have a career that makes a difference in the world.
– Trevor Kale leads Chrysalis Enterprises, which generates over 500 transitional jobs and 335,000 hours of work per year via its professional street cleaning and staffing businesses. He has over 16 years’ experience as a leader in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, spread across two continents.