US Mayors learn about the life changing power of social enterprise – Karen Chern, Portfolio Manager – REDF

Every year, the US Conference of Mayors brings together mayors from across the country to share ideas and information, develop effective national urban/suburban policy, and strengthen federal-city relationships. This year, the conference was held in San Francisco, and featured a special treat for the mayors – a site visit to see a successful social enterprise.

REDF helped coordinate the trip to alumni portfolio member and current strategic grant recipient, New Door Ventures’ screen printing social enterprise, Ashbury Images. New Door Ventures focuses on serving young people who are disconnected from school and work with the “end goal to help young people create pathways to sustainable lives,” according to CEO Tess Reynolds. The visit brought together over 60 mayors and people from the workforce investment boards to highlight the value of social enterprises as a proven, evidence based approach to providing jobs, training, and a pathway into mainstream employment for people who face barriers in their background.

To start the tour at Ashbury Images, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez voiced his support for the social enterprise model in getting people back into the workforce.

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon of West Sacramento, Chair of Jobs, Education and Workforce for the Conference of Mayors, made a call to action to his fellow mayors “Let’s get operational to bring this work into our own communities,” and also endorsed the social enterprise resolution that REDF helped draft and Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles sponsored. Secretary of Labor Perez fired up the crowd further, urging the mayors “This is where the action is. Mayors get things done. When you invest in your human capital you are making a statement.”

After an overview of how the screen printing business works, a panel spoke about their various perspectives of Ashbury and social enterprise. Included in the panel was Ashbury Images customer, Angela Johnson, Director of Product Strategy and Marketing operations at Habitat for Humanity International, New Door Ventures CEO Tess Reynolds, New Door Program Director Ciara Wade, and program graduate, Jerry. Angela discussed the value proposition of working with a social enterprise as a vendor, and emphasized, “We are really difficult customers to please.” Ashbury meets their highest standards. Ciara described the program model supports provided to youth at New Door, but the star of the visit was Jerry, who talked about the impact that the program and work experience offered had on him. “I was a lost young man, but people at New Door Ventures really cared about me.” As a result of that care and the work experience, Jerry got a scholarship to attend City College of San Francisco, and next year will transfer to Morehouse College. This news was met with thunderous applause from the mayors and the workforce investment boards.

On the ride back, REDF encouraged attendees to start thinking about working with the social enterprises in their cities to create more employment opportunities for those with barriers—perhaps through partnerships or favorable procurement or other policies.  After witnessing the life-changing impacts of social enterprise employment, combined with impressive business operations, we hope to see many more cities developing social enterprises soon!

–  Karen graduated with a BA in Economics from Duke University and an MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, where she helped run the University’s Social Venture Fund. She came to REDF as a 2012 Farber Intern at the Weingart Center’s 360 Degree Solutions. As a  Portfolio Manager, she applies business sector skills to social enterprise and philanthropic ventures.