It’s Social Enterprise Week in Minnesota. So What?

If you haven’t heard of social enterprise, you’re not alone.

Interested in having custom honey at your wedding? You'll feel good when you buy it from the Beez Kneez.  Photo w/founder Kristy Allen

Interested in having custom honey at your wedding? You’ll feel good when you buy it from The Beez Kneez — a local social enterprise that advocates for bees. Photo: founder Kristy Allen

But last year, Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak proclaimed the week of May 19th to be Social Enterprise Week.  So did St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman — and Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton!

Why? It’s not business as usual — it’s about businesses that focus on social-purpose too.

So this week, please make a special point to buy from a local social enterprise.  

When you buy from Peace Coffee the profits fund international agriculture and trade policy. When you buy from The Wedge, Linden Hills, and Seward Co-Ops you know they do more than traditional grocery stores; they evaluate the ecological, economic and social impacts of their business and their communities.  When a business buys services from Momentum Enterprises, they can then hire people with challenging problems and give them paid on-the-job training.

These purchases strengthen and expand our economy in ways that buying from traditional businesses do not, creating a win-win for our community.  Social enterprise products and services do double duty (double and triple “bottom lines”).  And you’ll find social enterprises in practically every type of business: recycling, online retailing, job placement, and a whole lot more.  Many of them are household names, but there are plenty of start-ups in the past several years.

Buying from a social enterprise is an easy way to put more of your money to work doing good.  Let’s make Minnesota a social enterprise leader!!

WHERE TO BUY GUIDE: a sampling of local social enterprises

The Arc Value Village Profits from the Twin Cities best thrift store raised $2 million to support children and adults with disabilities.  They even have a concierge!

Beez Kneez Honey House*  Buy from this social enterprise that delivers honey by bike!  They are tireless advocates for bees and offer education classes, which are going on right now.

Birchwood Café*  This “good real food” restaurant goes the extra mile to advocate for healthy food systems, supports local farmers, pays living wage salaries — and is 100% wind powered. Having raised $100,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, they reopened just in time for Social Enterprise Week!

Eat For Equity  People meet for dinner and give what they can: the meeting place, the ingredients (local, organic, fair-trade), food-prep, and money. The proceeds are donated to nonprofits. Check out their local events or “Collaboration-Kitchen” training. Launched in Minnesota, it’s spreading across the country.

Full Cycle  Need to fix your bike — or buy a refurbished one? Your purchase supports young people experiencing homelessness with paid internships, street outreach, food shelf and more.

Latitude Prints  When you buy business cards, brochures, or banners online, 50% of the profits support empowering women and children living in extreme poverty.

Midtown Global Market  This cultural marketplace supports economic development in diverse communities. If you’ve never been there, you’re in for a real treat.

Now Boarding When you use their pet airport boarding, doggy day care and training facility, profits go to fund the Animal Humane Society’s mission.


Unfortunately there isn’t a master list of all social enterprises. Not yet!  So where can you go for more information?

Social Impact App lists a few local social enterprises (and many across the country).

Social Enterprise Alliance TC hosts events where you can meet social entrepreneurs.

Minnesota Business often features social enterprises (sometimes called social ventures).

I hope this inspires you to “start seeing social enterprises.”

At Mentor Planet, we specialize in mentor-matching social entrepreneurs and social innovators.  I’ll be posting interviews with social entrepreneurs, start-ups, innovation and more! 



Successful Nonprofits: Going Beyond the “New Normal”

Should your nonprofit have a double or triple bottom line?

Should your nonprofit have a double — or triple —bottom line?

The world is changing — in a good way.  Here in the Twin Cities, and around the globe, there is a growing trend to use social enterprise to accelerate change — and make nonprofits more financially viable.

Social enterprise is not really new.  In fact, many local nonprofits have been operating one for decades.   What is new is how many are launching, innovating and scaling!  While they serve highly diverse missions and operate a variety of businesses, what they have in common is a double bottom line: social mission and profits.

Undaunted by “the new normal”  — major reductions in government funding or philanthropy’s reluctance to fund general operating costs — these innovative nonprofits are changing the way nonprofits “do business” by operating one. 

  1. Did you know that CityKid Java operates a $2 million coffee business? You may have seen it at Cub or Target.  Coffee sales made it possible for them to “donate” $45,000 to fund Urban Ventures youth programs.  They’re revved up and well-positioned to scale their “business” with a major rebranding underway, thanks to a pro bono team from General Mills. A targeted expansion is planned for specific markets across the country.
  2. With the Genesys Works “business model,” less than 25% of their budget relies on donations or grants.  What’s more, they are expanding nationally — achieving a 50% growth rateGenesys Works trains a highly diverse group of economically disadvantaged high school students.  In their senior year, they have an internship with businesses that are seeking technology-proficient employees. It’s a real win-win.
  3. Last year, PPL Enterprises merged with Rebuild Resources and then underwent a rebranding. Under their new name, Momentum Enterprises, they generate approximately $6 million in revenue from light manufacturing, recycling, and more.  With a new leadership team, they are well on their way to increasing profitability so they can achieve greater social impact and serve more participants.

Should your nonprofit start one?  If you have one, how can you make it more effective?  A smart organization does their homework.  So I encourage you, your board and senior staff to attend the national Social Enterprise Alliance Summit, which will be held in Minneapolis May 19-22.  It’s a great opportunity to hear directly from innovators and experienced leaders.  Choose a 4-day or 1-day registration. Go behind the scenes to find out what makes these social enterprises successful with Summit Tours.

Can’t attend the Summit?  If you’re in town, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to  network with 50 social enterprises at the first  Twin Cities Social Enterprise Marketplace, May 20, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.  It’s free and open to the public, thanks to the Greater Twin Cities United Way.  As the new president of the Social Enterprise Alliance Twin Cities, I encourage everyone to get involved and help us participate in building a thriving social enterprise community right here.

The Social Enterprise Alliance Summit in the News: MinnPost Minnesota BusinessStarTribune

Naturally, Mentor Planet will be part of the TC Social Enterprise Marketplace.  After all, we’re a social enterprise that mentors social entrepreneurs so they can accelerate impact!  Please stop by to say hello and meet some of our Mentor Partners.

Who Will Win the Change the World Contest?

According to a recent The Chronicle of Philanthropy post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes businesses are more likely to change the world than nonprofits because they lack resources.”  Now that’s a quite a challenge to the roughly 1,000,000 US nonprofits.

Is business properly motivated to change the world for the better? Do they have the right mindset? Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is gaining momentum, as evidenced by the first virtual CSR conference. (You can access reviews at Fabian Pattberg’s blog.) Taking a closer look at just one issue, sustainability, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.  According to a U.N. Global Compact/Accenture study, “93% of CEOs believe that sustainability is critical to their success.” They believe “a tipping point, meshing sustainability with core business, might be possible within a decade.” Can we afford to wait 10 years?

Two business giants think philanthropy is a way to change the world: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. They believe in it so strongly that they launched a campaign to motivate other US billionaires to follow their lead — and donate 50% their wealth to charity. Apparently it’s working, others have already signed on.  That’s certainly connecting smart people and money for change.

Author Nancy Lubin, goes so far as to say the nonprofit world can teach business a thing or two, not the other way around.  In her new book, Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business, she says nonprofits know how to do more with less, while keeping innovation, passion, and creativity high.  Some might argue with Lubin, saying nonprofits are part of the problem, because, like business, they are too invested in their current way of operating — they don’t change, innovate or make any real impact. Others might argue that charities simply don’t operate on the mega scale of business.

But there is a hybrid in the contest too, social enterprise.  It’s a blend of business and nonprofits that are out to change the world — it’s integral to their mission.  And it’s growing.  At this year’s SOCAP10 Conference more than a thousand of the world’s leading social investors, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and thought-leaders met to invigorate social change.  There are organizations, such as Ashoka and the Social Enterprise Alliance, that support social entrepreneurs, nationally and internationally.  The Hub provides creative meeting places and support, bringing people together with the intention to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.  More companies are touting a “triple bottom line” approach: people, planet, and profits.

Government is a huge player too: city, state, and federal budgets fund billions of dollars toward major projects, many of which are operated by businesses and nonprofits. As an example, The Corporation for National and Community Service is a public/private partnership with a $1.4 billion budget to mobilize more than six million Americans to solve critical problems through national service.  That’s scalable. President Obama launched a $50 million Social Innovation Fund to support promising nonprofit organizations working in low-income communities and leverages private funding.  It’s not a lot of money, in the scheme of things, but it’s a mindset toward more innovation and tangible results.

All the while, millions of people like us are taking action in big and small ways. We affect business, nonprofit, social enterprise, and government through our votes and activism. We’re buying local food, biking to work, writing our senators, and voting for what matters to us with every purchase we make — and changing the world.  Many of us — 41 million people (19% of American adults) — fit a consumer segment called LOHAS, with a focus on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice.  We’re becoming more connected too, through communities that are committed to making positive change, such as:

  • informs people about important causes and encourages them to take action — “165,399 actions taken this week.”
  • Worldpulse fosters women’s leadership worldwide, “telling stories of women who had lost everything except their passion for a better future.”
  • promotes volunteerism and nonprofit careers.

So maybe there really is a trend — a contest to see who can save the world. Maybe business will see the huge market potential in CSR.  Maybe nonprofits will see how more results-oriented thinking will help them be more innovative and mission-driven. Maybe social enterprise will become the norm.  Maybe our local and federal government will fund more innovation.  Maybe more individuals will get involved, rather than assuming someone else will naturally do the right thing.

We need everyone testing, experimenting, analyzing, and improving if we’re going to make real progress. I’m hoping everyone will enter the contest.  What can you do?  I’d be interested to hear your stories about what’s actually working to change the world.  Couldn’t we all use a bit more inspiration.