Incredibly innovative on all levels
What makes for a better social enterprise? One that directly impacts clients or one that generates significant revenue? Let’s use Beit T’Shuvah as an example, an addiction recovery center, where as of this week, I began as their business and social enterprise director. For years, Beit T’Shuvah, was known for its unique 12 step program, blending social work and spirituality to help clients overcome addiction. The program’s success continues today, but has since evolved to incorporate social enterprises, like BTS Communications, a marketing and communications agency housed within Beit T’Shuvah that provides job training opportunities for residents and new revenue channels for the organization through services rendered.
Now, what if BTS Communications had the opportunity to train 25 people this year in graphic design and copywriting, but did so at a huge financial loss (i.e. underwritten by donors)? Would this be preferable to running a social enterprise that only trained five people, but generated huge revenues with healthy profit margins? Assuming these are mutually exclusive tradeoffs, it strikes me that the most appropriate questions to ask are a) what is the organization’s mission; and b) what is the most effective way of achieving that mission? Developing client-focused workforce development and training programs are certainty worthy goals, and in the case of Beit T’Shuvah, have demonstrated to be impactful avenues to recovery. But in Beit T’Shuvah’s case, is job training just another means to an end? Could we help more people by focusing on profit and reinvesting those earnings into the 12 step program, which has a proven track record and helps more people at a lower price point per head?
Ultimately, there is no universal answer to these questions. Every social enterprise is tied a mission with unique set of circumstances and challenges. It’s these tradeoffs that keep me on my toes, always looking to extract the most social return for the organization and its mission.