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In an ever-evolving world, businesses and corporations are constantly looking for ways to bring about social change, protect the environment and do business in more ethical and responsible ways. Nonprofits are finding it hard to continually rely on donor funds or grants that are not always easily accessible to keep their doors open. A new business model that emerged as a result of these two situations is social enterprise. There are many definitions for social enterprises, one of them being from the Social Enterprise Alliance. The Alliance defines social enterprises as organizations that address a basic unmet need or solves a social or environmental problem through a market-driven approach. What this means is that an organization is set up where at least 50% of its profits are given to charity or put towards a social, environmental or community development cause.

As a Rwandan woman who lived through a genocide that devastated my country leaving 800,000 Tutsi people dead in 100 days, I have seen firsthand the value that nonprofits can create. A large number of children were orphaned and many women widowed. Nonprofits came in and helped us rebuild our country. In recent years however, nonprofits in Rwanda are finding it harder and harder to get funding so the contributions they were making have lessened or stopped but the need is still there. A few of these nonprofits have embraced the social enterprise concept.

One such organization that I had the privilege of being the co-founder of is Belay Global. Since 2013, through work readiness and entrepreneurship training, 192 young women have been trained by Belay and given skills that have led some to start businesses and employ other people. With the high level of unemployment in Rwanda, training people to work and be productive is a great benefit of social enterprises

In 2015, Belay was made aware of more need in the community. Rwanda has a lot women enslaved in prostitution as a means of survival. The organization decided to expand its reach to help some of these women. To keep both projects going, Belay had to find other means to fund its activities besides donor funds and grants. The organization started a jewelry making project employing the women who were seeking freedom from sex work. Through production and sales of jewelry and other accessories, 32 women were employed and the organization has kept 11 women employed as artisans. The needs of this group of women go beyond needing another source of income; they also need basic literacy, counseling, budgeting and saving, proper nutrition and healthcare training.

There are organizations that have been using this model for a long time such as Goodwill Industries with all the community development projects the organization has been involved in since its inception in 1902. However, the identification of these organizations as what they are, not a conventional business or nonprofit, is a much more recent development. Other organizations that fall into the social enterprise category that most people are familiar with include Toms Shoes, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Greyston Bakery and Fair Trade USA. Toms has impacted more than 94 million people since it started in 2006. The organization's scope has grown from selling shoes and providing a pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair purchased to a much bigger purpose. Toms is now tackling issues such as eye sight restoration, safe water provision, gun violence prevention and gender equality. The organization is able to do this through footwear and eyewear sales. The impact that Toms has made in the world is tremendous.

Texarkana has over 500 nonprofits. Most of these nonprofits rely on the community for donations and grants to keep their doors open. Other avenues of sustainability for these nonprofits should be explored so that people can continue to benefit from the services they provide. Social enterprises could create opportunities to reach more people, create more impact and be sustainable. There are also many unexplored business opportunities that could be launched to achieve social or environmental impact while generating income and developing Texarkana.

 

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