On June 15th some of London's social enterprises participated in the multi-chamber event: diSTRICTLY business.
The event was an exceptionally well run networking event/trade show where our social enterprises had an opportunity to practice marketing and promoting their products and services, connect with local vendors and display their business to the general public. Present was EcoLiving London, Cleanworks, Youth Opportunities "You Made It" Enterprises, Habitat for Humanity's Restore, Women's Community House's "Mine 101", London Fuse, My Sister's Place and Impact Junk Solutions.
By all accounts this was an incredibly successful event, fun for all involved and hopefully beneficial for the business aspects of their nonprofit's initiative.
Some discussion that occurred across the tables was that of the presence of nonprofits running businesses. I often get asked, is this 'fair market competition'? How can a small business compete with a nonprofit and how is it fair. A nonprofit gets tax breaks and a small business doesn't have grants and start up funds available to them in quite the same way. How is an entrepreneur going to compete with that?
It is actually harder for a nonprofit's business (their social enterprise) to succeed. These social enterprises employ clients whom, in many cases need support services to help them throughout the day. These services are very expensive and a cost a traditional business person wouldn't' have to pay (often where the grant money is allocated). The leadership challenges that come with this workforce is also very challenging; high turnover, high sick days, a required deep understanding of issues/challenges and patience to tolerate what would not be traditional human resource practices. One reason nonprofits are starting businesses is to help the marginalized populations become employed with a goal to eliminate their need for social assistance which in the end helps all tax payers, but most importantly gives these employees increased dignity, self respect, confidence and elimination of poverty in their lives.
It is our goal that social enterprises are partners with small businesses. That there are ways to collaborate, team up, work together and change our city. Social enterprise has a positive impact to our local economy and the evidence was present at the Chamber's trade show event. It was a very productive evening.