Racism is a topic on every American's mind these days. Sparked by what seems to be a resurgence of racism throughout the country, there has been a spotlight placed on presidential hopefuls, governors and police chiefs to ask -- what can they do about racial inequality? Racially-motivated attacks on black people at Donald Trump rallies have gone viral on the internet. Racism has led to the allowance of toxic water distribution to residents in the predominately black town of Flint, Michigan. Police killings of numerous unarmed black men sparked hundreds of protests throughout the country. While many ask what our elected officials are doing, I ask: What is business doing? Some businesses, known as social enterprises, work to solve social problems. However, little is known about how they aim to combat America's most challenging issue -- racism.
As businesses that attempt to address pressing social ills, the social enterprise sector should be a forerunner in the movement against racial inequality. Popular social enterprises such as The Women's Bean Project and Greyston Bakery have taken steps using an affirmative business model. In this model, they intentionally hire people facing barriers to employment. Employment barriers consist of factors such as being low-income, under-skilled, under-educated, homeless or formerly incarcerated. African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to live in communities with low educational attainment rates. This results in large percentages of minorities who are under-skilled and under-educated, hindering their ability to obtain professional jobs.
Affirmative business social enterprises recruit people, usually minorities, with such barriers to place them in transitional employment programs. The programs increase their skills and experiences in an effort to enhance their ability to obtain professional jobs. Because these factors disproportionately affect communities of color, affirmative business social enterprises help foster economic self-sufficiency for those communities.
Still, these social enterprises only address some consequences of racial inequality, rather than taking on the causes. Little information exists on how they do, or even if, they do. Rolfe Larson and Janine Vanderberg of npEnterprise Forum (npE) identified this issue in their blog post "State of Social Enterprise 2016." Their survey of over 10,000 social enterprises included the "need to confront racism" as one of five issues that need more attention in the sector.
Despite some recognition of the problem, most major initiatives and organizations thinking about business as a social engine still do not focus on this enough. As Steve Dubb of The Democracy Collaborative noted, the World Economic Forum's recent report on three investments with the most potential for high-impact did not include racial inequality. Instead, the report suggested the three biggest investments pertain to climate change, the environment, and the lifestyles of health and sustainability market. Investments made to generate social or environmental development, called impact investments, should not be made without an eye toward race.
Many social enterprises rely on such investments made by individuals, banks, foundations, government agencies and more to support their business activities. For example, Revolution Foods received impact investments of $500,000 to make affordable, nutritious meals for primary and secondary school students in low-income areas. After securing meal contracts with over 1,000 schools, Revolution Foods makes almost $100 million annually and serves more than 200,000 meals a day. Lack of investment in the fight against racism may be one reason for the lack of knowledge about social enterprises that directly address racial inequality. Despite that obstacle, if the mission of the social enterprise sector is to alleviate social problems, combating racism should be one of its top priorities.
Racism is divisive, destructive and deadly. It has affected every aspect of human life from infant mortality rates to educational outcomes. Racial injustices like the water crisis in Flint and attacks at Donald Trump rallies have increased the need for organizations aiming to alleviate such issues. In so doing, they have also heightened the need to understand social enterprise as a tool for combating social problems.
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