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Posted on May 07, 2012 at 10:59 AM by Gregg Keesling
Upon the birth of the social enterprise model in the early 1970s, it just seemed like a good thing to do. Organizations like Delancy Street out of San Francisco strived to "empower people with problems to become the solution". It simply made sense and social enterprises began to flourish, especially on the west coast.
The next wave of socially conscious endeavors aligned with the environmental movement, especially in the form of businesses making gourmet and artisan foods, the kind of goodies you’d find at a farmers market. Ben & Jerry’s and its eco-minded ice cream factory really signaled the rise of social enterprise on the east coast.
But what about in the Heartland? The Midwest? The Rust Belt? Can this type of organization make it here? Is the social enterprise model ready to take advantage of the industrial and manufacturing infrastructure and heritage embedded in the middle of the country?
Organizations like Green for All, which advocates for growing the green economy, have convinced me that the answer to this question is, “Yes!” We’re never going to win the battle for environmental justice if it’s only embraced on the coasts. The mission of RecycleForce works and is a model of what social enterprise can look like in the Midwest. We can show some real heart right here in the Heartland.
Last November, Green For All released its report, Best Practices in Green Re-Entry Strategies, at our location on the east side of Indianapolis. Their report illustrated the need for green social enterprises and highlighted RecycleForce as a promising model. Congressman Andre’ Carson attended as did staff from the offices of Indiana Senator Dan Coats, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. I am pleased that folks from both sides of the aisle are taking an interest in our model.
We admire Green For All for the courage to launch their report in the Midwest, where concepts that are socially centric are too often [incorrectly] labeled as socialism. The very mention of the word “socialism” strikes fear into the staunchest of conservatives and hand washing by the leftist of liberals. However, our model reduces recidivism, strengthens families and saves taxpayer dollars. As part of a nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Labor, our results will help leaders from both sides craft smart policies to address the pressing issues of reentry. With the help of Green For All, we hope others are inspired to learn and follow what we are doing at RecycleForce.
A few months ago, Kabira Stokes of Los Angeles came to visit RecycleForce. Ms. Stokes is a young woman with a passion for civil rights issues and a firm belief in the importance of second chances. She’s convinced there is little room for new businesses without a social mission (and I hope she’s right).
She came to RecycleForce to learn about our operation and with the intent to essentially replicate our social enterprise model in California, where the rate of recidivism is the highest in the U.S. Ms. Stokes’ social enterprise is named Isidore Recycling. I’m thrilled she is copying our success. After all, isn’t imitation the highest form of flattery?
Then it hit me. I began to connect all of these disconnected dots, like my model for the modern agitator Frank Zappa. I realized there need to be more businesses that recycle and hire ex-offenders. We need to foster the social enterprise movement by recreating our own model right here in the Midwest. There is so much e-waste to be recycled and we ought to be the operation collecting it and helping ex-offenders in neighboring cities and states along the way.
We’re growing new RecycleForce outposts, starting them off as collectors. We’ve started to do so in places such as Warrick County near Evansville, Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville and Columbus, Ohio. It is very early in the process, but we believe folks in these cities can do what Isidore Recycling is trying to do in California.
In addition to growing these programs, our next steps include leading an effort to create a local chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) and we hope to grow Midwest membership in the Social Venture Network (SVN). Both organizations can become valuable resources for growing the Midwest social enterprise movement.
So get ready America. You haven’t seen heart till you’ve seen it come out of the Heartland!
Ryan Puckett of two21 LLC contributed to this post.Commenting is not available in this channel entry.