Looking for examples of social entrepreneurship to inspire your own work? Each month we feature five nonprofits in the Stand Together Foundation network that represent the best in social innovation.
The Stand Together Foundation community comprises some of the nation’s most effective social entrepreneurs. Instead of looking for one-size-fits-all solutions to address challenges in their communities, they look to the community members who are closest to each issue to generate new ideas. Instead of simply managing the symptoms of problems like poverty, addiction, and mass incarceration, they ask big questions and take healthy risks to get at the root causes.
In other words, these social entrepreneurs aren’t content with the status quo. They’re committed to empowering individuals around them and transforming lives one at a time.
CarePortal connects churches, caseworkers, and community institutions to provide real-time support to families in need. Rather than accepting the current state of the foster care system (including nearly 270,000 children in the U.S.) the CarePortal team decided to design preventative solutions for vulnerable children and families.
Their entrepreneurial solution includes a software platform that empowers case workers to submit requests on behalf of their clients and activate local volunteers to create Circles of Care around isolated children. This innovative, community-driven approach meets the unique needs of every child and helps prevent them from entering the foster care system.
First Step Staffing
First Step Staffing is a nonprofit staffing agency for individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty. When their team looked at the job market, they saw that large swaths of Americans were essentially excluded from employment opportunities.
First Step’s key innovation is a deeply individualized staffing process. They sit with every client to review work history, technical skills, living situations, and barriers to employment—then that client is supported by a job coach and placed in a new role within 48-72 hours.
Once placed, First Step connects each client with community resources to help ensure a stable path to financial independence. As a result, individuals develop confidence, self-reliance, and pride, while local businesses get access to dedicated and talented employees. The results speak for themselves: 86% of people who have been with First Step for six months or more successfully transition out of homelessness.
75% of individuals living in poverty in Texas are Hispanic or Black. The JUST team is working to close this enormous racial wealth gap by making loans to low-income, ambitious female entrepreneurs.
JUST’s innovative lending process applies best practices in microfinance by leveraging peer groups and coaching to improve repayment and debt management outcomes, rather than traditional measures like credit scores or bank account information. They offer personal loans for emergencies and sudden expenses, as well as business loans for women looking to start an entrepreneurial venture.
Ultimately, JUST envisions a world where women and minority business owners benefit from inclusive community and access to capital, rather than relying on predatory lending products.
Lawndale Christian Legal Center
Lawndale Christian Legal Center believes in the possibility of a safer Chicago. Their team saw that the typical approach, mass incarceration, wasn’t actually ending cycles of violence. Instead, LCLC decided to innovate and redefine what the justice system could be. They connect young people with community support, facilitate restorative justice, and provide clients with wraparound services to address their biggest challenges.
Today, LCLC is the only community-based holistic legal practice in the city of Chicago dedicated to the felony criminal defense of juveniles and emerging adults. Their Restorative Justice Community Court (RJCC) resolves felony cases for 18-26 year-olds through conferences within the legal community and peace circles with those affected by the crime.
Through these creative, holistic interventions, Lawndale is setting a new example for how violence and mass incarceration can be ended. To date, 87% of active LCLC participants were not rearrested for a new case or technical violation.
Path United provides a trusted, steady support system for low-income families living in mobile home developments. Children raised in these environments—often first- and second-generation Latino immigrants—face enormous barriers to education and future employment opportunities. This puts them in a position where they’re focused on surviving, rather than thriving.
To empower these children to achieve their potential, Path United’s entrepreneurial approach includes multiple levels of support. Their staff and volunteers operate community centers with weekly programming, including one-on-one support sessions and small group activities. They also connect with students and parents on a monthly basis, and host quarterly experiences to expose students to new opportunities like summer camps and college visits.
Ultimately, Path United’s consistent presence mean’s children and families have a go-to resource for any challenges they face. As a result, students do better in school, their high school graduation rates increase, and they are able to truly flourish.