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Empowering Young Adults through Employment Social Enterprises – Florencia Spangaro, Director of Programs, Citi Foundation

Today, there are 4.5 million young people who are not working or in school (“opportunity youth”), disconnected from the people, institutions and experiences they need to build rewarding lives as adults. These young people have tremendous potential. They are the tomorrow’s leaders, business owners, innovators, civic officials and artists. Their success is vital to helping ensure our communities flourish and our economy thrives.

The Citi Foundation’s investment in REDF (Roberts Enterprise Development Fund) is part of our Pathways to Progress initiative, which was developed in response to the high rates of youth unemployment here in the U.S. and globally. Through Pathways to Progress, we are helping young people build skills, expand their networks and become career-ready through jobs, internships, and leadership and entrepreneurship training so that this generation is the most employable generation yet.

The Citi Foundation first partnered with REDF in 2008. In 2016, REDF was one of 40 organizations selected as a Citi Foundation Community Progress Maker, an initiative that supports high impact organizations that are driving economic opportunities in their communities. Our support enabled REDF to grow the employment social enterprise sector in Los Angeles through LA: RISE. In 2018, we began working with REDF to support social enterprises that serve Opportunity Youth, as part of our Pathways to Progress initiative.

Young People and Social Enterprise: A Perfect Match

Employment social enterprises offer young people a paying job that provides not just an income, but also the opportunity to apply learned skills in real time. Equally as important, they are given access to a wide range of support and services that go far beyond what is typical in workforce development: help with childcare and transportation, training to strengthen communications skills and the ability to manage conflict, financial counseling and housing assistance, among others. These services help young people overcome the types of challenges that can get in the way of getting and keeping a job, especially for those who are still developing the skills and behaviors they need to fulfill their potential and succeed in the workforce.

It is inspiring to see so many young people who are thriving as a result of their own determination and the support they received from a social enterprise. Stories like Lola’s, Brendan’s, and Jasmine’s are just a few of many success stories.

Accelerating Growth in the Social Enterprise Movement
Despite low unemployment levels, employers are struggling to find entry-level talent to fill open positions. Employment social enterprises can help young people gain paid work experience, on-the-job training and industry-recognized credentials to qualify for these positions, but we need more of them to meet the demand of the millions of young people seeking to enter the workforce.

REDF’s work is helping to build momentum in the social enterprise field by partnering with the most promising social enterprises around the country and providing a customized, multi-faceted portfolio of support. Through grants, loans, advisory services, leadership development, knowledge sharing, policy reform, valuable public-private partnerships and research, REDF’s model is helping to advance the field and ensure long-lasting impact for individuals facing barriers to employment.

The employment social enterprise field is ready for growth, and in collaboration with REDF, we hope to continue increasing awareness, understanding and support for these social enterprises while also connecting thousands of young people to meaningful employment opportunities.

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