A good risk not a sure bet

As a tough year ends, we are still fascinated by America’s wealthiest men and women – like Warren Buffet who sits atop the Forbes 400.

Fewer obsess about the men and women that REDF meets who have gotten their lives together and started working after hard times and years of unemployment.

With unemployment for everyone so high, people want to be distracted.  We want to hear answers; not how complicated it is to solve problems.

But America’s second wealthiest individual, Warren Buffet, reminds us that in contrast to making money:  “If you’re succeeding all the time in philanthropy, your projects are too easy. Look for the things that are more important and where you may fail.”

This is music to our ears, because trying something hard is the entire purpose of REDF and our partners.   What we’re doing is a good risk, but it’s not a sure bet.

And its not so complex we can’t identify with it. But we know that these are our parents, siblings, and cousins.   Many of us will see them at holiday time and wonder what to do.  Someone close to you has certainly lost a job. But go deeper. Think about your own family – there is probably someone who has gotten in trouble with the law, struggled with addiction or mental illness, or even become homeless.

While so many people are having a hard time getting a job now, it’s even tougher for people who face challenges like these.

The good news is that we are beginning to find solutions.  And those solutions require business not as usual.

The enterprises we work with are part of it — creating jobs that have helped thousands step into the workforce.  These enterprises are a cost effective piece of a larger transitional jobs movement that is generating evidence of results, and gaining momentum nationally.

It’s not, as they say, about giving people a fish, it’s about teaching people to fish for themselves.  It’s about a second chance – something that’s scarce when you are lower down the economic ladder.  But that second chance is essential.

We have met men and women who are transformed completely by that opportunity – going from despair to productivity.  Knowing about that makes all the difference.  It brings hope to us, to them, to their families and children, and to our communities.

In 2011 and beyond, we’ll be working with partners all over California to create more of the right kinds of jobs and supports so thousands more people don’t go back behind bars or to the streets, but go to work and see their wages and spirits rise.

We’ll focus on sustainability — generating earnings from the businesses to cover as much of the costs as possible, and delivering superior results for the price.

Over time we want to impact even more people.  To start, we’ll be pulling together leading practitioners nationally, and consulting people who have made it back into the workforce to define a model that can be implemented all over the country.

Check out this amazing piece from Australia on “social procurement” to see some of what we have in mind!

And if you prefer inspiration, check out Cooked, Jeff Henderson’s story of his transition from cocaine dealer to prison to top chef.

Thank you for sticking with us.  Rest up.  Enjoy friends and family over the holiday.  If you run into Warren Buffet, let him know what we’re up to.

Tune in here early next year to find out about REDF’s new portfolio – in the Bay Area and, for the first time, beyond!!

Join us in this New Year’s resolution: take some risks to create lasting change.