When I first thought of social entrepreneurs, I couldn’t distinguish between ambiguous tree-hugging do-gooders and focused entrepreneurs who strive to find solutions to social issues. Thankfully through college and my experience in Detroit so far, I have learned that social enterprise involves businesses with clearly articulated financial models, led by passionate management teams using bottom-line focus of businesses to positively impact a variety of social issues.
In a way, the idea of social entrepreneurship is a culmination of the best of both worlds – an economic and social force fusing the vigor of market forces with the social ethos of public service.
In recent years, there is a growing number of Detroit business ventures that reflect this culmination of the “best of both worlds” in social enterprise and their success is as important to Detroit’s future as that of traditional businesses. There are many amazing social enterprises in the city of Detroit, but I will only go as far as to name two below.
“The Empowerment Plan” is a Detroit company based in Corktown that manufactures coats that double as sleeping bags; some of which are donated to homeless people. The company hires females living in shelters and provides them training along with a $1500 microloan. The company has a great track record of bringing their employees out of shelters and into affordable housing through this method. This is a clear example of a social enterprise at work: while the venture is creating capital, it is bringing homeless, unemployed individuals into an atmosphere to be successful while also giving back to other homeless individuals.
The non-profit that I am working for this summer, “ProsperUS Detroit”, is a place-based economic development program designed to empower low and middle income, immigrant and minority individuals by offering entrepreneur training, business services, and microloans to those whose credit score may be too risky for traditional means of generating capital. Their mission is to provide opportunities for individuals and families to achieve greater economic success, which in turn revitalizes their own communities. Since 2014, ProsperUS has trained over 600 entrepreneurs through their entrepreneur training program and has made over $700,000 in micro-loans. Working with ProsperUS has given me a first-person glance into the heart of a well-organized, successful social enterprise and has cemented my belief of the importance of social entrepreneurship.