Community Development

A Tale of Social Enterprise Across Multiple Cities

Billings Forge Community Works
 

Althea Bates, Director of Programs and Workforce Development, Billings Forge Community Works

Attending four days of REDF Social Enterprise for Jobs (SE4Jobs) Accelerator Program amidst the backdrop and scenery in San Francisco, California paints a serene landscape with wonderful views of the Golden Gate Bridge for myself and the 17 other social enterprise ventures representatives. This unique group represented social enterprise businesses from a variety of areas of industry, from retail food-related businesses to green-recycle social ventures. The 18 participants that attended this first session were selected from more than 50 applicants across the country that operate a double bottom-line business, one that supports individuals with barriers to employment embedded in the operation of their business. I work for Billings Forge Community Works in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford. Our culinary job training programs work to provide a leg up for people who face multiple challenges by creating access to true, attainable employment.

At the REDF program, the first two days of our deep dive into social enterprises consisted of venture pitches, preparing for a growth mindset, looking at cash management and people management, understanding the history and future of REDF and what supports can be offered to us as social enterprises. Then came “nailing our pitch” to social investors with a meet and greet, which has the social entrepreneur in control with the investor at all times during the pitch.

The REDF 18, as we called ourselves, had the chance to engage each other and learn from each other personally and professionally while in California. We have two other sessions over the next year to continue developing as social enterprise leaders. The opportunity is being provided to us as social entrepreneurs to scale up our efforts to create jobs and provide support to individuals overcoming serious barriers to employment such as incarceration, mental health and substance use issues,  and  homelessness, helping these individuals to be successful with seeking and finding employment and transitioning to being part of the pool of the long-term employed.

This program comes at a critical time as Billings Forge Community Works prepares to launch our new Opportunity Youth Café.  I am excited to learn how other social enterprise ventures turn their ideas into reality. I will continue to grow from experiential learning while gaining a fantastic network of change-makers with which to continue to learn, share and collaborate. I’m looking forward to Sessions 2 and 3 in New Orleans and Baltimore!

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