From California-based funder to national leader

In 1997, when we were founded, REDF supported 14 businesses across the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearly 30 years later, REDF is the country’s largest consultancy in employment social enterprise, providing capital, capacity, and community to over 260 enterprises across 41 states and DC. Together, these businesses have generated over $2.5 billion in revenue reinvested in their employees, and employed over 133,000 people.

Dreaming of a Better Bay

1985 – 1995

In 1985, visionary financier and philanthropist George Roberts, cofounder of KKR, and his wife Leanne, launched their family foundation serving Bay Area nonprofits dedicated to improving public education and combating poverty. A few years later, that work inspired a more targeted economic development fund on homelessness led by George and founding executive director Jed Emerson.

The Rise of Social Enterprise

1997 – 2005

1 state, 17 enterprises, $16M revenue earned, 3,074 people employed since inception

The field of social enterprise — an innovative market-based solution to intractable social challenges — begins to take shape. Jed writes about it, and this study informs the launch of what is now known as REDF (Roberts Enterprise Development Fund led by Jed and eventually Melinda Tuan who succeeded him as President). REDF becomes the country’s first venture philanthropy dedicated to investing in and supporting social enterprises and pioneers novel approaches in the work, like the now globally-adopted process of calculating social return on investment and the first book on social enterprise practice. As the field takes shape and its methods make traction, REDF transitions out of the family foundation into an independent nonprofit under the leadership of then President Kristen Burns.

REDF also builds the platform for emerging leaders in this space by creating an annual fellowship, the Farber Fellowship, for rising MBA and MPP students intrigued by the power of social enterprise.

Transformative Public Investment

2006 – 2015

1 state, 29 enterprises, $237M revenue earned, 9,696 people employed since inception

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 our mission. Her vision and tenacity results in transformative public investment, including the inaugural Social Innovation Fund grant totaling $7.5M over five years. REDF is one of 11 organizations across the country to receive this prestigious honor — an investment that also unlocks our geographic expansion out of the Bay Area and into Los Angeles to help build a regional ecosystem of employment social enterprises.

In 2015, REDF releases the results of the Mathematica Jobs Study, the most rigorous evaluation ever mounted on the efficacy of the social enterprise model. The study shows 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.

Igniting a Regional and National Movement

2016 – 2020

30 states and DC, 196 enterprises, $1B revenue earned, 61,234 people employed since inception

Along with the City of Los Angeles Workforce Development Board, REDF launches LA:RISE, 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.

With backing from an additional $7M Social Innovation Fund grant, REDF expands nationally, and introduces new and innovative programs investing in entrepreneurs at key stages of their growth journey. These programs include a first-of-its-kind Accelerator specifically designed for the leaders of early-stage employment social enterprises, an impact lending practice seeking to unlock new sources of capital for the field, and a policy practice that catalyzes public sector investment at scale.

Credentialing the Field

2021 – Today

41 states and DC, 260+ enterprises, $2.5B revenue earned, 133,000 people employed since inception

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. REDF welcomes employment social enterprise leader Maria Kim as President (and then in 2021 as President & CEO). Maria was formerly CEO of Cara Collective, a member of REDF’s 2016 Portfolio.

In this period, REDF also achieves policy and other wins that accelerate the adoption of employment social enterprise as a model innovation in economic mobility (by codifying ESEs into law, by having REDF Impact Investing Fund certified as a Community Development Financial Institution, by unlocking the nation’s first statewide investment in ESEs).