Business while Doing Good: Social Entrepreneurship in Washington, D.C.

There has been a recent shift in paradigms when in the corporate and non-profit sectors. What previously has been thought to be in the opposite ends of the spectrum, the corporate and non-profit field has found an intersection in social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship has been given many different definitions but at its core, social entrepreneurship is about creating sustainable enterprises that focus on dealing with a social problem or creating a social good through different models.

Having been exposed to the local scene of social entrepreneurship in the likes of Gawad Kalinga (GK) Enchanted Farm, Rags to Riches, IdeaSpace Foundation, and Kalibrr among others, I was excited to see what social impact ventures and innovations I could find in the US, and possibly introduce similar models to the Philippines. 

DC Trip Global Giving, DC Central Kitchen, GoodSpread

Given my interests in exploring different types of social enterprises, I quickly went ahead and joined the Penn Social Entrepreneurship Movement (PennSEM). One month later, and I got the opportunity to not only bond and learn from my fellow PennSEM members but also go on a “social enterprise field trip” in the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. There we got to meet the founders and managers of four different social enterprises: DC Central Kitchen, Global Giving, Armani Ya Juu, and GoodSpread.

Bonding session with the PennSEM team

Bonding session with the PennSEM team

Empowering the poor through job training models

Starting out, we were quickly introduced to the very efficient and innovative operations of DC Central Kitchen, which recycles food, feeds the homeless and trains them in the culinary arts. DC Central Kitchen’s job training program for the homeless focuses on self-empowerment, developing a supportive community and professional skills training to help prepare the graduates to work either in a partner restaurant or go full circle by working in DC Central Kitchen.

DC Central Kitchen Partnerships and Planning Coordinator Katherine Eklund talked about how they put an emphasis on following up with their graduates and really making sure that they help these homeless people break the cycle of poverty. She ended up saying, “It’s inspiring to see people who used to rely on our services but are now part of the program and helping feed the homeless.”

With the same theme of empowerment, the second social enterprise we visited was Armani Ya Juu which focuses on empowering marginalized women in Africa. Armani Ya Juu runs job-training model where they teach these women skills like stitching, quality control, purchasing, bookkeeping, management and design. The products these women make are then sold in Armani shops and online.

Chatting with the American coordinator of Armani Ya Juu

Chatting with the American coordinator of Armani Ya Juu

Innovating the financial sector with technology

Third on our list was a visit of the office of GlobalGiving, which is a transaction platform that connects corporate donors with non-profits all over the world. In their office, we got the opportunity to speak with the co-founder of GlobalGiving Mari Kuraishi who showed us the power of technology in innovating the finance and non-profit sector. She talked about how GlobalGiving came out of her realization when she was still working for the World Bank that “smaller organizations in developing countries did not have access to international financing and resources.”

At the GlobalGiving office with CEO Mari Kuraishi

At the GlobalGiving office with CEO Mari Kuraishi

When asked how non-profit organizations can best fund-raise and get their mission across, she focused on 4 key tips: 1. Simplify your message. 2. Make sure you have good materials to back it up (ie. website and photographs). 3. Make the story about an individual. 4. Create urgency. With this in mind, GlobalGiving also offers web development training and webinars on how to take photographs for all the non-profits they’re involved with.

Asked what piece of advice Kuraishi could leave the aspiring social entrepreneurs of PennSEM, she answered, “You got to live, eat, sleep, breath on your idea for it to be a success. Don’t just to do it because you think it’s kind of cool to be a startup entrepreneur. It takes a lot more than you think so in the dark days, your obsession with the idea will help you go through the process. There’s honestly nothing like building your own company, and designing it the way you want it.”

A good cause worth spreading

Our final agenda for the trip was brunch with Alex Cox, the co-founder of GoodSpread, which sells peanut butter for a cause worth spreading. For every packet you buy, a malnourished child receives a packet of therapeutic food. It was really inspiring hearing Alex talk about his journey as a theology and film major, travelling to China to teach English then going back to America to start his social enterprise GoodSpread.

Alex empathized the importance of being able to relay your message and tell your story as a social enterprise. He credited his film background for the video in GoodSpread’s Indiegogo campaign that raised more than $69,000.

With GoodSpread cofounder Alex Cox

With GoodSpread cofounder Alex Cox

On starting a social enterprise

Getting to meet and hear the stories of all these social entrepreneurs and social enterprises made me realize that there are no limits when it comes to social good. Each of these four different social enterprises used different models in solving a social problem their founders had identified. These four social enterprises are changing the world for the better one step at a time, while showing the world that you can build sustainable enterprises focused in doing good.


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