Summit15 – Creating Change through Social Enterprise
Pine Street Inn began its journey four decades ago—offering approximately 200 men suffering from alcoholism a safe alternative to the streets of Boston. Since then, the organization has expanded to serve over 1,600 men and women each day, providing a range of programs and services, including housing, outreach, shelter and job training. Its ultimate goal is making permanent housing a real possibility for everyone.
Pine Street Inn also operates two social enterprises. iCater provides services such as menu preparation, nutritional content, food purchasing and production, delivery and serving. One hundred percent of the proceeds from iCater fund Pine Street’s Food Services Training Program, which advances the work-life skills of homeless men and women, enabling them to move toward self-sufficient lives.
Boston HandyWorks is a Pine Street Inn social enterprise that handcrafts and sells market-ready cutting boards. Men and women transitioning out of homelessness transform scraps of wood into premium quality products as they find employment and secure housing.
During this eight-week job training program, participants receive instruction in tool, jobsite and chemical safety; basic math and measurement; carpentry; general repair; interior and exterior painting; and customer service. The program prepares participants for employment in building maintenance.
Anne M. Wunderli, VP, Operations, at Pine Street Inn tells us why she is excited to attend Summit15, why social enterprise is important to Pine Street Inn, and what is new at the organization this year.
Why do you attend SEA’s Summit?
Wunderli—I have been attending the Summit for quite a few years now. It is such a terrific opportunity to have those one-on-one experiences, which I consider the main benefit of the event. The Summit is a great opportunity to learn from others’ experiences—to learn lessons from those further down the road than you are. That’s how the hallway networking happens, but I also really appreciate the opportunity to visit social enterprises in different cities each year. It is intriguing to see hands-on what they are doing.
Why are you excited to visit Denver for Summit15 this year?
Wunderli—I enjoy visiting new areas and appreciating the beauty that different cities have to offer. Denver is full of super innovative social entrepreneurs, and I am definitely excited for the tours this year.
What is the history and importance of social enterprise to your organization?
Wunderli—In 1996, we started job training, we had excess capacity in our building and HUD was getting out of job support training. We were also looking to diversify our revenue streams and for opportunities to improve our trainees’ experience. With all of these things already percolating for us, we had heard of social enterprise, and one of our board members knew Billy Shore from Share Our Strength. With the board and Billy as our champions, we looked at our strengths and identified catering.
We had our first customer before we had our business plan. Business grew, and in 2005, I would consider it an official business. Later, we worked with Community Wealth Partners to really build a solid business plan and realized we were underpricing our services. Most of our customers are nonprofits like ours with large numbers of people to feed. We positioned ourselves as alleviating that headache and showing that we have a cost-effective option for them. Four years ago, we started a catering drop-off venture, and now we have hired an executive chef. iCater is a critical part of Pine Street Inn’s identity.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges for social entrepreneurs today?
Wunderli—One of the challenges faced by social entrepreneurs operating businesses within established nonprofit organizations is the need for agile accounting and reporting systems. The social enterprise managers need responsive and real-time financial data and associated reporting mechanisms, and the nonprofit needs to be able to track data in a way that works for their general ledger systems. Getting those systems to align isn’t easy. In general, making the public aware of social enterprise is a huge opportunity and providing them with easy access to purchase from social enterprises.
What is new and exciting at Pine Street Inn?
Wunderli—We just sold our 3 millionth meal in 2015!
What makes Pine Street Inn unique?
Wunderli—In terms of innovation, our organization recognizes the value of social enterprise and how to do it successfully. Our social ventures help the business grow, and we see the real value of it. Regarding our second social enterprise Boston HandyWorks, we haven’t seen many other social enterprises in wood-working. Then, we have two other lines of business in janitorial and business services that support Pine Street Inn. One thing that makes Pine Street Inn unique is our ability to innovate coupled with our dedication to social enterprise.
Written by Anna Upchurch from the fabulous team at JVA Consulting.