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How Social Enterprise Will Emerge Stronger Than Ever

We could all use some good news to motivate us during these tough times and I wanted to share some with you today, along with our response to the current crisis. When REDF expanded beyond our base in California to become a national organization nearly five years ago, we set an exceptionally ambitious goal―to find, fund and advise the most outstanding and effective employment social enterprises across the US, with the goal of providing jobs, training, and support to 50,000 people who are overcoming daunting challenges.

With your generous support, the persistent efforts of the employment social enterprises themselves, and the dedicated REDF team, we are proud to report to you today that together we not only reached that major goal post eight months early, we exceeded it!

In the context of COVID-19, investing in employment and hope is more relevant and urgent than ever. The economic fallout of the pandemic is already especially severe for people employed by social enterprise businesses―individuals striving to rebuild their lives after homelessness, incarceration, struggles with mental illness and addiction, and young people without jobs, education or a support network.

These men and women are exceptionally vulnerable to the twin health and economic crises at hand. And with consumer demand ground to a halt, the social enterprise businesses that employ them are struggling to survive. At the same time, the infrastructure of jobs and supportive services we and the employment social enterprises have painstakingly helped to build will be even more vital in the future.

I want to share with you what we are doing in this truly unprecedented time to preserve the inventory of social enterprises so that these mission-driven businesses emerge from this crisis stronger than ever, with the capacity to continue to employ and serve the most vulnerable people in our society.

Our response is informed by listening to our partners and acting based on evidence – a reflection of our core values. We surveyed our community to understand what they need most right now.

REDF’s crisis response has three elements:

  1. Establishing an emergency fund to cover immediate needs of social enterprises, alongside technical assistance aimed at preserving social enterprise viability and accessing government crisis response resources; while engaging funders to increase the emergency funding pool available as we know that demand will exceed capital on hand.
  2. Providing fact-based information to help social enterprises make sense of, apply for, and leverage available public and private resources through REDFworkshop, our platform to connect the social enterprise field; while facilitating peer support – more needed than ever — through virtual convenings and advice from practitioners; and
  3. Advocating for federal policies that bring resources to employment social enterprises which, because of their unique business model and scale, can sometimes be left out of government programs.

What are the next big priorities for the short term?

        • Modify loans to borrowers of the REDF Impact Investing Fund – to provide low cost loans to preserve social enterprise capability
        • Develop and launch a digital advocacy platform to extend our advocacy capacity
        • Design technical assistance resources to help ESEs stabilize operations, preserve cash, access public funding, and adapt operations;

Please know that REDF values our staff and is prioritizing their health and safety. We have seamlessly transitioned to working remotely and we are collaborating closely. We will seek to prudently manage our resources while preserving funding commitments to grantees and delivering program outcomes to funders.

We will continue to provide you with regular updates during this crisis. I hope that you and your friends, family and colleagues are taking care of your health – that is most important.

In times of crisis, people reach for meaning. Meaning is strength. Our survival may depend on our seeking and finding it. (- Viktor E. Frankl).

REDF’s work is centrally about meaning and purpose, and the current crisis strengthens our resolve to grow this field to its full potential. And as we look ahead to the future, we believe even more strongly that, If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people. (- Chinese proverb).

I hope that you join us in finding meaning and strength through participation in this urgent work. With your support, we will continue to make a difference.

To support employment social enterprise during this unprecedented time of need, click here.  

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