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Social Enterprises Show Us that Business with a Purpose is Possible

News Article

On Feb. 17, the Young Lawyers Section of The Jacksonville Bar Association held its Ninth Annual Young Lawyers Section Chili Cook-Off at the Riverside Arts Market, which benefited Rethreaded, a local nonprofit.

The event typically benefits a traditional charity, but this year was different. During a meeting preparing for the event, I referred to Rethreaded as our “charity.” A representative from Rethreaded politely corrected me by reminding me that Rethreaded is a social enterprise.

The definition of a social enterprise is a for-profit or nonprofit business created to further a social purpose in a financially sustainable way. This interaction made me reflect on the differences between charities and social enterprises, a distinction to which I was unintentionally ignorant.

For example, Rethreaded’s mission statement is “Rethreaded renews hope, reignites dreams and releases potential for survivors of human trafficking locally and globally through business.”

Rethreaded carries out its mission by hiring survivors of human trafficking and giving them employment for two to five years. It not only provides job training and employment, but also access to counseling and treatment for addiction.

Survivors employed by Rethreaded manufacture goods like the Grace Scarf, operate its retail store and handle the finances of Rethreaded.

In addition to the goods manufactured in its location, Rethreaded also sells goods from other similar social enterprises in other parts of the world.

Between its sales revenue and donations, Rethreaded has employed more than 35 survivors and provided 47,000 hours of work during its history.

Put another way, people who buy items sold by Rethreaded are able to change people’s lives for the better. It’s commerce with a purpose and social conscience.

At an event to announce Rethreaded’s partnership with Southwest Airlines in November, I was introduced to another social enterprise, Arise Veteran Foundation. It is an organization that provides job training to veterans, gives them employment and even incubates their future businesses.

Some of the veterans that Arise has employed have either been homeless or searching for a way to transition back into society. The organization has given them a sense of purpose and even inspired them to start their own businesses.

Rethreaded and Arise are built on the well-known adage that “if you give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

These organizations have found a way to help people by giving them the tools for long-term success and giving them purpose in their lives. Rather than giving a handout to people that they benefit, these social enterprises give them a hand up.

In terms of sustainability, both Rethreaded and Arise participate in a process called upcycling.

The purpose is to reuse discarded material to create goods that often are a different or better quality than the original form.

Upcycling prevents usable materials from hitting landfills, while dramatically reducing costs of goods sold for these startup social enterprises.

For Rethreaded, it uses T-shirts to make scarves, dog toys and other accessories. Additionally, Rethreaded and Arise use leather donated by Southwest Airlines to create goods like jewelry and handbags.

The momentum behind social enterprises has been building for some time. According to Forbes magazine, millennials (a population larger than baby boomers) are equally interested in making a positive impact on the world as they are with making money.

This sentiment among a large portion of our population, among others, is giving social enterprises the customer base to continue their work.

In a world of big box stores and “one click” online purchasing, it is refreshing to know that there is a segment of the business community that espouses a deeper meaning to day-to-day business and challenges its customers to join a social mission.

Social enterprises like Rethreaded and Arise allow us to take mundane everyday acts and turn them into meaningful experiences for both the employees of these social enterprises and us.

Alessandro Apolito is a partner at the law firm of Brennan, Manna & Diamond and is a board member of the Jacksonville Bar Association Young Lawyers Section.