Social Enterprise in Atlanta

What can we do in Atlanta to start and support more social enterprise businesses like Green Streets?

» Rohit Malhotra – Executive Director, Center for Civic Innovation:

Given this city’s history, it should be no surprise that Atlanta is home to some of the oldest and most vibrant social entrepreneurs– they just don’t call themselves that (as I’m sure Tyrone and his group didn’t think of themselves as at first). Atlanta needs to build better infrastructure and opportunity to support those who are already creating the equivalent to “Green Streets” in Atlanta. Folks like the 12 entrepreneurs selected for our Food Innovation accelerator, who are building businesses in Atlanta neighborhoods on back of the problem of food access, like JoVanna with MaituFoods or Susan Pavlin and her initiative to build fresh produce into existing brick and mortar within neighborhoods. Social entrepreneurs hustle harder than any other industry because they are tackling issues that constrict growth in our neighborhoods and cities.

This brings us to the next need for Atlanta to grow social entrepreneurship: more social investment capital. If we treat social entrepreneurs more like businesses and less like charities, we can start investing in the outcomes that these entrepreneurs are producing. Not once did Tyrone ask for a handout; instead, he wanted a contract. This is what entrepreneurs want: a customer willing to pay them fairly for their services. To build more social enterprises, we need to open up pools of capital and offer it as impact investment into the type of social ecosystem we want to see. Otherwise, we will watch Atlanta entrepreneurs either A. give up or B. become successful and dream to move into another, more capital rich market, just like Georgia Tech’s own Village Defense did.

One last thing that stood out to me was that the foundation for Green Streets to even launch was a piece of public policy: a mandate for composting and recycling. Often times, legislation is just seen and often developed as a burdensome restriction to a problem; in this case, a mandate for compost and recycling became an opportunity for these young kids. Atlanta has the opportunity to urge its city council members to put some policies in place that advance and open up the innovation economy to a broader and more diverse range of individuals.

I’m excited that we’re bringing attention to this opportunity, and I hope we can build up and invest in the growth of the Tyrone’s of Atlanta.

» Ellen Macht – President, The Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative:

Atlanta has a plethora of resources for startup businesses with a high tech focus. But if you live in a low income-neighborhood and want to solve a problem and create a social enterprise, you will have a hard time accessing these resources.

Atlanta has many organizations that provide everything from space, support staff to help with writing business, marketing and communications plans, to leadership to teach entrepreneurs how to run a business. In this realm of start ups, our biggest issue is keeping these entrepreneurs in Atlanta when they are ready to launch their businesses.

What about our low-income neighborhoods and their residents? We need to focus some of these resources on creating social enterprises and jobs that can help to nurture our low-income community residents as well. Much like our friends from San Francisco, Atlanta has neighborhoods that are challenged with difficult issues. There are solutions for these problems. We can create local social enterprises in our neighborhoods that develop solutions for their own neighborhood issues. We also can build businesses in low-income neighborhoods that satisfy demand for products and services throughout metro Atlanta while providing jobs for residents. As the sustainability focus has grown, it has awakened a desire for local sourcing of supply chain needs.

It will take developing relationships between residents and neighborhood apartment owners, property managers, real estate developers and seeking their support to work with resident entrepreneurs with good ideas. Together residents looking to improve their communities can work with these resources to identify needs and develop relevant solutions. It will take commitment, capital, and ongoing coaching to make it work, much like Tyrone received in San Francisco from McCormack Baron Management, the property management company in his housing project.

In San Francisco, it helped that there was a significant monetary gain for the property management company by implementing a solution to recycle waste as state laws require. Yet Tyrone saw an opportunity and worked with the property management company who coached Tyrone and his friends and found other resources to help as they worked through the solution. Social enterprises like this can create jobs and help build wealth within our low-income communities. Job creation for challenged applicants (those who may have a criminal record or do not have a high school degree) is essential. However, much like San Francisco and our high tech entrepreneurs, funders, our schools, and other resources must provide support to help them learn the skill sets they need to be successful. Our high schools and the technical college system already provide classes to teach business skills. But here is where these relationships become so important. Mutual respect and need is a solid basis on which to begin. Resources must be identified that can offer all entrepreneurs in Atlanta access to capital, help with navigating our legal and government requirements, and ongoing coaching in business acumen.

» Michelle K. Uchiyama – Founder, Charitable Connections, Inc.:

Social Enterprise is a vehicle for improving the human condition and a powerful generator of economic development. It creates a tool in the marketplace for converting human potential into human capital and is completed with a process of care for the human spirit and dignity.

Charitable Connections believes we can expand social businesses like Green Streets through strategic delivery of

  1. Dialogue,
  2. Education,
  3. Collaboration,
  4. and through the creation of a movement of eco-systems.

Creation of community and corporate dialogue about inclusion, opportunity, value exchanges, human care, human capital value and their relationship to economic development will help deliver more businesses like Green Streets. Through this dialogue we will be able to identify the factors that continue to undervalue the human capital in our community and create solutions. Care and human dignity are part of the value chain that have not been part of our traditional bottom line thinking but are of great value in productivity and economic energy.

Education as part of the strategy will expand the knowledge base about social businesses like Green Streets. We should deliver evidence based curriculums that provide the framework for knowledge on social enterprise development and demonstrate social enterprise as a powerful tool for community economic development. The education strategy should be comprehensive and take place in our communities, in the board rooms of large businesses and non-profits, in the marketplace with small businesses and community based and faith based organizations, and in the classrooms of K-12 schools and secondary educational institutions.

Collaboration is vital to create support systems for social enterprise. The type of social enterprise created by Green Streets is not created by us doing for a population of people, but it is a process of self-development. Through collaboration we create the opportunities for all people to realize their full human potential in a dignified and loving environment. Collaboration provides a mechanism for access to opportunity; coaching on personal development; mentoring on technical and business issues; and resources to work through any barriers to success.
The last strategy in creating more businesses like Green Streets comes from creating a movement of eco-systems. We have to start thinking of people, businesses, institutions and groups as eco-systems. Creating a movement of eco systems establishes new value frameworks above and beyond the likes of Facebook but in a way that creates value for people, institutions, families and the community. It is the reordering and capturing of underutilized value that improves the quality of life for all people. This creates a new measurement for the economy called gross domestic value and new opportunities to create more businesses like Green Streets.

Social Enterprise has a great value to the Atlanta economy. It is going to take all of us to make it viable and visible as a way to a powerful future. Through increased dialogue, education, engagement/collaboration and a movement, Atlanta can become an eco-system that will harness its human capital in a way that will catapult our economy now and in the future.

» Kwanza Hall – Atlanta City Council:

There is a lot we can do to create a vibrant sector of social enterprise businesses in Atlanta. In no particular order, here are three things that come to mind.

1. Gather the data

When it comes to launching social businesses, the road is paved with good intentions. This sector of the U.S. economy is still young. Private businesses and philanthropies should work with the public sector to gather baseline data across the city, so that anyone looking to establish a social business has a clear idea of what our needs are… and where hidden opportunities lie. Ben Thornley, summarizing the preliminary results from The Great Social Enterprise Census in 2012, notes that 60% of social enterprises nationwide were created in 2006 or after. Only a small percentage of those have achieved sustainability. As a result, we don’t know much about what works. The key to all of this is to match real needs with real opportunities, just as we see in Citizen Film’s documentary on Green Streets.

2. Get some early wins

As we have seen this year with the Atlanta Hawks, everyone loves a winner. With respect to our fledgling social business sector, we need some early wins to get people fired up about the future. That may mean making our largest initial investments of time and resources in existing social businesses, nonprofits, and established community partnerships that have already demonstrated capacity, tenacity, and staying power. In establishing the Boulevard Food Co-Op (the first food co-op run by low-income residents of the Old Fourth Ward), we brought together a consortium that included longtime residents, well-established agencies such as the Atlanta Community Food Bank and the Atlanta office of AmeriCorps/VISTA, and Truly Living Well Urban Agriculture, a nonprofit with a track record of commitment to the neighborhood. We also shouldn’t be afraid to replicate successes from elsewhere, if they make sense for Atlanta and if they help us get some early wins to demonstrate proof of concept.

3.Commit to the long haul

As important as it is to get some early wins, we also have to commit to the long haul. The work of establishing and nurturing a social business is not for the faint of heart. The same can be said for creating a citywide infrastructure supportive of social enterprise.

On the government side of things, we can review existing laws and administrative procedures at the city, county, and state level to remove barriers that make it hard to establish social businesses. We can work with the small business and nonprofit community to mobilize technical support. And we can work with our friends in the financial and philanthropic sectors to create revolving loan funds and other means of financial support. There may also be opportunities to re-position grant funds available to governments to maximize participation by social enterprises.

Finally, committing to the long haul includes taking the time to nurture a human infrastructure of individuals who want to see Atlanta’s social enterprise sector succeed. The November 2014 opening of the Boulevard Food Co-Op was preceded by a year of community building and meetings. During our planning year, dozens of people of goodwill, from all walks of life and varying socio-economic backgrounds, attended one planning meeting but did not return for a second. Our most regular and steadfast attendees were the senior citizens and single moms from the Boulevard corridor for whom hunger and food insecurity is a daily issue. As we build Atlanta’s infrastructure to support social businesses, we should be on the lookout for friends and wisdom in unexpected places.