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A Social Enterprise Proving that Doing Good Works

Employment social enterprises are mission-driven, revenue-generating businesses that reinvest their profits into helping people overcome barriers to employment. It’s this revenue-generating approach that makes them so effective – and that fuels their ability to grow, expand, and deepen their impact on society.

Southern California-based enterprise Doing Good Works is the perfect example. Recently named an Inc. 5000 fastest-growing company, this employment social enterprise is proving that being mission-driven isn’t only good for our communities – it’s good business.

We sat down with co-founder Jordan Bartlett to learn about his journey to social enterprise, how they have adapted during COVID-19, and what the enterprise has in store for the future.

Why did you start a social enterprise to employ foster care youth?

I was born and raised in Orlando, and I was adopted when I was young. I had two amazing parents and a great, loving family. When I was in college, a biological sibling reached out on Facebook. She had overcome addiction, been arrested, and had been in and out of foster care. It was a very different path from my own, and I learned that hers was the much more common outcome – and that was true across the United States.

I moved to California after college and took a job in executive recruiting that I wasn’t passionate about. So I quit to work with youth in the foster care system. That’s when I met Scott, my co-founder, who had a similar goal. We both came from a for-profit background and began researching business models to start an employment social enterprise. We knew that if we could generate revenue, we could generate opportunities – and that with the right business model, we could scale to reach more youth/

So what does Doing Work Goods do today?

Doing Good Works was recently listed #822 on Inc.’s 5000 fastest-growing companies list.

When developing our business model, we knew that we wanted to be in an industry that allowed us to engage with other businesses and share our mission. The promotional product industry is a $20 billion industry and it reaches almost every company. We started knocking on doors, asking companies if we could print their t-shirts. Soon, we received requests to print business cards and other items, and we kept growing our customer base and expanding our services. Today, Doing Good Works operates a full-service print, promotional merchandise, and packaging company that has employed and trained over 1,500 young people.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your enterprise?

We are heavily focused on producing items for events and in-person gatherings, so we knew we had to pivot as soon as shelter-in-place orders took effect. One of our larger clients is in the healthcare industry, so we were able to begin sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) for them in March and April. That allowed us to continue operating the business during the hardest months and gave us time to pivot further. Now, we’ve moved into kitting and distributing – we work with the same products, but we bring them to our facilities and package them for our clients. For our collegiate customers, this has been a great way for them to reach their students while they’re at home. It’s more work – but for us, that’s good because it creates jobs. It’s been a great way to engage more young people and engage more customers in the mission.

And how have your customers responded in the last few months?

Over the last three months, with everything going on in the world, our customers have become more engaged with our work than ever. What you wear is very impactful. You see it with NBA players, expressing their political views on their clothing. We’re starting to see a t-shirt as a billboard for what you believe in. Our customers – and their employees – are starting to demand a social mission from their vendors. With all of the difficult things happening in the world right now, it’s been a bright spot to see customers react in a really authentic way and seek out social enterprise partners.

Doing Good Works participated in REDF’s Southern California Technical Assistance Program, which offers project-based business consulting services to employment social enterprises across the region. Can you share more about that experience and how it will impact your enterprise?

We worked with REDF on a six-month project to develop our first internship program, and we are excited to be rolling it out this fall. The program will bring in 18 young people between the ages of 19-31 for 13 weeks and offer both on-the-job training as well as supportive services. In addition to receiving on-the-job training within the business, the interns will work in groups on one project related to a need in the foster youth community outside of employment, like education, housing or mental health. Together, they’ll develop a plan to support foster youth in that area and then deploy it in their local community. We’re hoping this experience helps them grow their networks and exposes them to different organizations and potential career paths.

The REDF team helped us create the onboarding process and assessment tools, and helped our team build our goals and metrics for success. By launching this internship program, we’re adding more employees to the team than we currently employ, which is incredibly exciting.

What are your goals for the future?

The kitting and distribution business has really allowed us to grow and employ more youth, so we’d like to continue growing that element of the business. And we’re excited about the prospect of expanding into new areas to reach more foster youth. In the short-term, we’d like to expand within California because the state has the highest population of foster youth in the country. We recently acquired Ashbury Images (a social enterprise of REDF partner New Door Ventures) and as soon as we are safely able to do so, we hope to find space in the Bay Area to employ youth in the region.

We’re also always looking for new ways and models to provide employment and other supportive services to our participants – we’re excited to continue testing out new ideas and increasing our impact.

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