Rob Lee Andrews

A guest piece written by CEO of Denver Works, Rob Lee Andrews, about the pillars of social entrepreneurship and how they positively impact the local community.

How the pillars of social entrepreneurship reveal its strengths

I was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado. My mom is a certified nurse’s assistant and my dad is a construction worker. When I was young, we moved to Las Vegas, but eventually found ourselves back in Colorado Springs. My family saw this move back to Colorado as a great opportunity, but what I came to learn was that despite all the things that made Colorado Springs a wonderful place to grow up, the city still faced a lot of common afflictions within the US – from poverty, to alcoholism and an underprivileged education system.

After I finished school, I got involved in local politics, before ultimately becoming disillusioned. That time, along with a culmination of prior experiences, is what led me to where I am now. Currently, I am the President/CEO of the longstanding nonprofit CommunityWorks Inc. During my time at CommunityWorks Inc., I’ve seen just how social enterprises can have a greatly beneficial impact on the community.

Back in 2019, we served over 1,000 individuals by providing important resources necessary for social mobility. Resources such as training and education, which help individuals land careers and become self-sustaining. Witnessing individuals regain their autonomy with assistance from our social enterprise, is an extremely rewarding experience.

Recently, I’ve made it a mission of mine to spread a message about how social enterprises impact communities of color for the better. One way we can think about social entrepreneurship, is by the pillars it’s made up of. These pillars reveal just how social entrepreneurship accomplishes great things.

The pillars of social entrepreneurship are:
• Social mission over financial mission
• Innovation as a response to social issues
• Self-sustainability
• Measured impact
• Leadership

Social mission over financial mission
This concept is at the core of social entrepreneurship. Social enterprises operate successfully by addressing social problems through creative business models which may or may not generate a financial return. Financial return is important for the sustainability of the enterprise but not essential. Social welfare is more important to social enterprises than financial return, thus social enterprises are inherently more invested in the welfare of the community than their for-profit counterparts.

Innovation as a response to social issues
Social enterprises are so vital to communities as they fill in blanks left by for-profit enterprises (though, for-profit enterprises do play a very important role in the local economy). All social enterprises are built on a mission of addressing a key social issue. Their entire goal is to bring transformative, accessible, and scalable change – something that for-profits or market-based solutions often fail to do.

Referencing the “social mission over financial mission” pillar, social enterprises utilize creative business models in order to operate. Thus, innovation is an inherent factor of social enterprises – while they do not seek to turn a profit, they must invent strategies in order to be self-sustainable. Being self-sustainable allows social enterprises to focus on the issues they are designed to help the community overcome, and even to avoid controversy, as many believe that profit maximization and social value creation are (and should remain) two completely separate objectives.

Measured impact
This foundational element of how a social enterprise operates, actually has a varying definition depending on the organization. Impact here, is defined as the creation of social change. There are many different definitions of what social change is and what it looks like in action. Organizations overcome this challenge of differing definitions by comparing the enterprise’s actions to the well-being of the society – its access to education, good healthcare, the quality of the nature environment, the strength of the local economy, etc.

Successful social enterprises are operated by successful social entrepreneurs. These individuals help organizations develop high impact strategies for growth through leadership. This pillar may be the most important to the social enterprise movement. These organizations thrive because of the leadership model that is adopted as a business model. The social entrepreneur spends the majority of their time on leadership models to help drive growth and revenue for the organization.

These five pillars are what make social enterprises great. Given the unprecedent climate communities of color are currently facing, I can only image how vital these organizations will continue to be in the process of rebuilding. As I mentioned before, the well-being of a society is made up of many things. When other for-profit entities fail to address those factors, the community stands to benefit from social enterprises, which aim to first to serve, to innovate, to exist in a self-sustaining manner, and to measure the benefits of the change they create and to lead the change by bringing the community together to solve the complex problems of today. From my experience, it has been a true honor to lead a social enterprise – an organization that is fundamentally dedicated to the people of Colorado first and foremost.

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