Summit15 – The Place for Social Entrepreneurs to Collaborate
Humanim, founded in 1971, is a nonprofit organization that works with individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment. The organization has offices in Baltimore, Columbia and Towson, Maryland, and connects with its clients through human services and workforce development. Cindy Plavier-Truitt is Humanim’s Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer. Cindy oversees Humanim’s Baltimore operations and its successful social enterprise division, including Details (Deconstruction), iScan and Harbor City Services.
Cindy looks forward to attending Summit15 this year, and she is excited not only to attend this year’s Summit but also to visit Denver for the first time. In an interview with Cindy, she shares her perspective on the importance of Summit15, the opportunities and challenges for social enterprise, the factors that make Humanim unique, and updates on the organization’s recent work.
Why are you attending Summit15 this year?
Plavier-Truitt — The Social Enterprise Alliance’s Summit is critical, because it is a chance to relax and spend quality time with colleagues. It is also the perfect opportunity to meet people you do not typically interact with or see on a consistent basis. The learning aspect of the Summit is great, but what I find really key is the opportunity to connect with people dynamically and to make impactful partnerships. For example, last Summit, I connected with Bill Morris from Blue Star Recyclers, and now we are collaborating more fully. Last year, we were considering e-recycling as well, so this year Bill is coming out to Humanim to conduct an assessment and to determine our readiness. We will potentially replicate his model. It seems like every year the sophistication of ideas at the Summit increases.
Each year, I also take the opportunity to reflect upon current events and to create a dialogue around how those events change our perspectives and potentially our roles as social enterprises. Especially surrounding the events this year in Baltimore, I look forward to speaking with other organizations working with similar populations in similar areas. The Summit is the ideal event to gather information and context for situations that arise from year to year. Finally, post-Summit, I am excited to explore the National Parks in Colorado and Utah. There is something humbling about the dramatic landscape in Colorado. In a way, the mountains are a great reminder of the work we are doing. To feel so small in the face of something so large is humbling. It also reminds me of all the work we have collectively done so far and of the massive impact we are yet to make in the world.
Tell us about a recent development at Humanim.
Plavier-Truitt — We are constantly pushing the boundaries of what workforce development means. In our minds, we have to be job creators in addition to providing what are considered to be traditional workforce programs. Humanim is expanding these opportunities through social enterprise, and managing the pipeline of those activities is my main job. Our most recent success story is Details, our deconstruction business. In the last two and a half years, Details has provided more than 90 jobs. More information on the impact of Details’ latest project can be found at our blog Baltimore Brick by Brick. The most exciting part of creating social enterprises is giving people with barriers to employment the freedom to be self-sufficient. We strive to innovate and create jobs based on market forces.
What makes Humanim unique?
Plavier-Truitt — There are a few things that make Humanim unique. First, every single person employed—directly or through one of our social enterprises—by Humanim receives the same benefits and the same retirement plan. Second, we are a social enterprise organization embedded in a human service organization, each of which operates a bit differently. Our social enterprises have to create job opportunities and become self-sustaining on earned income. With Details, for example, we are projecting revenues of close to 3 million dollars our third year. We believe next year we will be operating without subsidy. We also have a board committee that helps guide this process. The social enterprise committee acts as our guardrails for the different enterprises we approach. Finally, we utilize partnerships and joint ventures to diversify and create unique opportunities, much like the work we are doing with Blue Star Recyclers. We also brought on board other nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Build it Green NYC and others as partners for Details. These partnerships allow us to push the envelope on creativity.
What opportunities and challenges lie ahead for social enterprise?
Plavier-Truitt — I think social enterprise has become much more mainstream now. People are aware of it, and they want to do business with organizations that are providing a social good. Now social entrepreneurs need to be prepared to share information and data about the type of impact they are having. Showing this impact is both the challenge and the opportunity. Defining impact and tracking those goals is especially hard for new businesses and it costs money as well. Now is the time though, with more and more focus on social enterprise, if we are prepared to share not only our story but also our impact, we can attract more people and a larger market.
Written by Anna Upchurch from the fabulous team at JVA Consulting.