Retired Allen Proctor reflects on changing social enterprise landscape


Allen Proctor, Founder of SocialVentures – Photo by Walker Evans

On July 1, Allen Proctor handed over the reins to the organization he created to help support the social enterprise community in central Ohio.

SocialVentures was known as the Center for the Development of Social Enterprises when it took root in 2014 to foster better performing social enterprises in the region. The ultimate goal was to help the non-profit sector become more self-reliant.

Upon its inception, “We were extremely concerned about the perpetual struggles of nonprofits and saw that the donor community was concerned about this as well,” said Proctor.

Social enterprises had the potential to be part of the solution. Historically, the business model has flourished in the nonprofit sector and, as Proctor points out, continues to be the predominant focus outside the region. Social enterprises could not only provide a business solution that helped continue the mission of its parent organization, but also create a new, usually more stable, source of income.

Proctor quickly discovered that while there was enthusiasm for social enterprise among executive directors, the boards they served frequently had a different idea of ​​how to achieve the ultimate fundraising goal. It was a battle of potential income streams versus getting big donors.

From nonprofits to employment-based businesses: a changing landscape

While SocialVentures may not have made the expected inroads into the nonprofit world, the next seven years would bring an unexpected, but positive, evolution to the local social enterprise sector. And SocialVentures would evolve at the same time, changing to meet the needs of the socially conscious businesses that inhabit the region.

“What has evolved, in general, is that community support for social enterprises has grown tremendously, and in particular, it has taken root outside the nonprofit sector,” said Proctor. ” We did not expect that. ”

Proctor sees some of the growth driven by younger generations who expect more from the business world.

Even outside of social enterprises, in particular, “What we have seen growing is a greater cultural awareness that businesses have a responsibility in their daily actions to help the community,” said Proctor.

Societal demand has opened up businesses to new ways of thinking about their place in the community. Instead of a corporate foundation, sitting on boards, writing checks, or attending galas, companies are finding new ways to give back, whether through their hiring practices and looking at who fills their seats on the board, or the mix of vendors they use and the community activities they support and participate in.

Not only is a new way of doing business gaining popularity in the for-profit world, Proctor is seeing a specific approach to social enterprise gaining momentum in central Ohio.

“Our biggest surprise and our greatest joy is the number of employment-based social enterprises,” says Proctor.

The very definition of social enterprise deals with the use of creative business models to tackle societal issues, and Proctor views employment-based businesses as making progress on a perennial problem that spans ages, races, genders and generations: poverty.

“We believe that social enterprises, especially employment-based social enterprises, are a much more effective means of generating income for minorities and the perpetually poor,” says Proctor.

It refers to a 2017 Kaiser Family Foundation survey of poverty in Ohio. Of the 1.3 million non-elderly adults living in poverty across the state, 58% are white and 43% are men. Proctor does not recognize and diminish the systemic issues of racism and discrimination that have contributed to poverty among minority groups, but rather sees the numbers showing the pervasive scope of poverty and those who have never truly “connected to society.” “.

Whether it’s lack of education or other factors, “They don’t deserve to be impoverished,” says Proctor.

In American society today, Proctor sees the emphasis on wealth creation that is blatantly out of step with the realities of perpetual poverty. Many people living in poverty have had difficulties – a history of drugs, incarceration or trafficking, or may have disabilities or be chronically homeless. There is a basic human right that is more necessary and more realistic than the creation of wealth for people in poverty. It is a lasting job.

This is where the mission of SocialVentures underwent a major change. Proctor explains that part of their advocacy has come in the form of helping business leaders realize that providing an individual facing barriers to employment with a sustainable employment opportunity is just the start. Helping them succeed is another.

“Hiring them, failing a drug test and getting rid of them is not the way to go,” says Proctor. “It’s knowing that they will fail a drug test and how are you going to help them get on that path.”

Social enterprises have demonstrated their commitment to the goal of helping these people succeed.

And the goal of SocialVentures is to help amplify these businesses.

Initially, Proctor believed that the critical factor in the success of their organization would be providing knowledge, training and mentoring. Instead, Proctor says, the success factor is connecting with customers. And capital.

“Getting started is easy; surviving is difficult, ”says Proctor. “We focused on the hard part. ”

The mission of the organization has become broader and more ambitious and SocialVentures now aims to develop retail for social enterprises and educate large enterprises on supporting social enterprises with their B2B purchasing power.

As for capital, another component of SocialVentures’ recipe for success, the region’s dollars have remained largely oriented towards high growth companies. Proctor points out that as a true social enterprise that could distribute the majority of its profits or have a significant percentage of supported jobs, strong growth may not be truly achievable. In such a young industry, the return on investment will also be slower in coming.

This is where the SocialVentures fund comes in. The organization launched its fund in 2017 to support local social enterprises, making its first investment of $ 50,000 in Roosevelt Coffee Roasters the following year.

“Our investors are more interested in the impact of their investment than the financial return,” says Proctor.

However, Proctor wants to see more investors putting money into philanthropic investments and foundations in the truest sense of the word, than they wait for repayment. This is money that does not yet exist in the region.

Proctor and SocialVentures were instrumental in partnering with The Metropreneur for the annual Social Enterprise of the Year awards presented to Aspire. Above, Proctor presents an award at Aspire 2018 – Photo by Walker Evans

Carry the torch

Proctor has known for several years that his tenure at the head of SocialVentures is coming to an end. Seeing that the notion of social enterprise was being adopted by a younger population, he approached the board of directors more than two years ago to tell them that as they approach their 70 years, the organization will need to make a change. Since then, SocialVentures has also geared its board towards young professionals, with a third of the seats held by people under the age of 40.

Moving on to its next chapter, SocialVentures will be led by Vicki Bowen Hewes as Proctor moves into the role of Founder and CEO Emeritus.

Proctor sees direct parallels between Hewes’ leadership at Dress for Success – she founded the Columbus chapter in 2007 – and the social enterprise sector.

While anyone familiar with Dress for Success will associate the organization with helping women dress professionally for job interviews, Proctor says Hewes pivoted the organization to provide an approach to the job interview. job more complete than clothing. She realized that her organization also needed to focus on soft skills and preparing individuals for employment – the exact strategies many social enterprises adopt to help their employees succeed.

“She has a very good understanding of the challenges associated with being successful for people who have encountered barriers to traditional employment,” said Proctor.

As many social enterprises are owned or run by women, Proctor also sees power and a new market in the Hewes network.

“[She] has an incredible network among women leaders both locally and nationally, ”says Proctor.

The future of social enterprise in central Ohio

Summarizing his time with SocialVentures, Proctor said, “I think the main success of the past seven years is that we have not only created a movement, but we have also created a broader awareness of new ways of making a movement. difference in our community. ”

And the events of the past year have created the perfect environment to build momentum around social enterprise and a new way of doing business. As the pandemic emerges and through movements like Black Lives Matter, the cultural and economic divisions that exist within the city are more aware than ever.

“Now I think the time has come for this approach to business to become mainstream,” says Proctor.

Over the next five years, it will be time for community leaders to come together and bring civic and philanthropic leaders into the fold of social enterprise.

Celebrate Proctor’s retirement at Positioned to Prosper on Tuesday August 3. Click here for more information and tickets.

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