Social Enterprise – Wearing out poverty
Buddy Teaster, from Soles4Souls, explains that social enterprise has proven that it is valid and it works. Now is the time to truly make an impact.
Soles4Souls is a global not-for-profit institution dedicated to fighting the devastating impact and perpetuation of poverty. The organization collects new and used shoes and clothes from individuals, schools, corporate partners, and other community organizations. It then distributes those shoes and clothes both via direct donations to people in need and by provisioning qualified micro-enterprise programs designed to create jobs in poor and disadvantaged communities.
We interviewed Buddy Teaster, CEO of Soles4Souls, to gain his perspective on social enterprise and on the work Soles4Souls is doing. Teaster will attend Summit15 in Denver this September.
What does social enterprise mean to you?
Teaster– To us social enterprise means that we have a serious focus on trying to earn our way. We are always reflective of our mission, and we use the marketplace to address the issue of poverty. What makes me nervous is the grey area that exists between the balance of mission and margin. Soles4Souls donates 50% of our goods and we sell the other 50%. We could sell more of our goods and produce more revenue, but we believe that you cannot separate mission and margin because they are completely integrated. I hope social enterprise does not become a marketing tactic for organizations. It is hard to find that sweet spot in the middle, but it is also necessary.
What are the main obstacles that social enterprises face?
Teaster – For social enterprises of our size and maturity, I have seen an obstacle in obtaining social impact funding. We are established, we have scaled, we have proven our impact, and now we need momentum to keep things moving. A large percentage of social impact funding is going to start-up organizations, and that is good to a point. However, we cannot forget that medium-sized social enterprises can produce results, are ready to produce results and just need the money to get to the next level. For Soles4Souls, specifically, we need more products. We need more shoes and clothes.
What are the main opportunities for social enterprise in the future?
Teaster– I think there is a huge opportunity to create a micro-enterprise market here in the U.S. Soles4Souls plans to work with veterans in the near future to create opportunities for employment. Again, social impact investing can be a great opportunity for social enterprise. Great things have developed in this field, and while it is important to celebrate our success, we need to get to work.
How exactly does Soles4Souls make a strong impact?
Teaster – In the short-term we provide donations to those in need. One of the things we know is that in a lot of the developing world if you do not have a pair of shoes, you cannot go to school. Parents are already struggling to provide school fees and buy books, so sometimes shoes can determine if a child is able to attend school. In the long-term we sell goods through micro-enterprise, and are creating jobs in the community. The more we can improve the supply chain with better and more affordable products, the more shoes people in the community can sell.
Are other people running or starting to run social ventures similar to the Soles4Souls model?
Teaster – I know of one organization, VisionSpring, which manufactures eyeglasses that it sells to entrepreneurs. VisionSpring has the same idea of taking a basic commodity and getting it to people inexpensively enough that they can in turn take the product and make money.
With growth on the horizon, Soles4Souls is ready to expand and to touch more lives and communities. For more information, please view Buddy’s TedX talk or view the attached article.
Written by Anna Upchurch from the fabulous team at JVA Consulting.