Social enterprise is an emerging trend in social change work worldwide. Simply put, social enterprise is about solving old problems in new ways. We define social enterprises as “entities that use sound business practices and the power of market demand to create social and/or environmental benefits for a community or region”. They can be for-profit businesses, non-profit programs, and everything in between. While legal structure can vary widely, social enterprises generate revenue through the sale of a product or service that impacts a social or environmental problem.

Interest in socially-minded business is coming from several directions at once. Consumers are pushing businesses to incorporate social and economic considerations into their business models, and non-profits are looking for innovative ways to pursue their social or environmental mission. In rural areas in particular, a decline in government resources and philanthropic dollars is forcing leaders and organizations to consider ways to use the power of the marketplace to advance their cause.

These trends are creating more entry points for entrepreneurs and non-profits interested in pursuing social enterprise as a market-based solution to social needs and problems. While it currently remains a small segment of the overall economy of Appalachia, we see the acceleration of the social enterprise sector as a crucial driver of economic transition. They offer an opportunity for the region’s many non-profits with revenue-generating activities to sustain and expand their services and products. For the region’s many entrepreneurs and small businesses with social missions, a social enterprise model makes it possible to make ends meet and begin to fill the gaps in rural social and environmental services. In persistently distressed communities, social enterprises can explore and grow market opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise. And by pursuing double or triple bottom line results, social enterprises and social entrepreneurs act as change agents, gradually shifting the region’s economy toward one that promotes sustainability and broadly shared benefits.

Strategies

Our goal is that social entrepreneurs and socially-minded business leaders achieve stronger financial and social bottom lines.

  1. Help leaders clarify their vision and value proposition and set strategic direction, so they can make informed decisions and achieve stronger social and financial bottom lines. Specifically, we facilitate strategic and business planning, help design impactful business models, and strengthen leadership and culture.
  2. Help leaders solve their business and operational problems, so they can focus on the big picture. We support them in establishing and tracking performance targets, analyzing and diagnosing inefficiencies, and developing customized tools for solving common organizational issues. We understand the complexities of running a social enterprise and can help leaders dissect their business model to determine how make the best use of grants and earned income in their overall financial picture.
  3. Help leaders maximize social and financial capital, so they can scale their innovative and impactful models. We foster peer learning and support as well as mentorship connections so leaders can hone their ideas and skills.  We connect and convene strategic collaborations among our network of partners so social leaders have access to the resources they need to succeed.