I recently heard a CEO speak about how he took an investor’s one million dollars, bought some real estate, and repaid the investor completely plus a thirty percent return on investment within five to seven years. This was no small feat in the current challenging economy. It is incredible to see small businesses taking chances and receiving incredible returns on their risks. What is even more amazing is that this business provides shelter to the homeless.
Brian Rowland is the CEO of A Safe Haven a for-profit company which provides shelter and training to those recovering from drug and alcohol abuse. As a recovering addict, Brian realized how ineffective some of the current rehabilitation services were. An expert in real estate, Brian and his wife Neli decided to purchase some real estate during the economic downturn and offer it to those in needs. The couple thought they would sell the property when the economy turned around, but soon found that what they offered was of such value it would be a shame to end it. Today A Safe Haven has a sixteen million dollar budget, over one hundred employees, and sixteen sites providing shelter for over thirteen hundred men, women, and children. Besides providing shelter, this company also provides meals, drug and alcohol treatment, and job training and placement.
At the same event where Brian spoke, I also learned of a new movement, Social Enterprise. Brian is also a member of the Social Enterprise Alliance. This Alliance is currently in eleven states and fills a unique need. Their mission is “To produce massive social value via successful social enterprises.” The Social Enterprise Alliance envisions social enterprise solving the world’s problems including social, environmental, and human justice through nonprofit’s mixed revenue portfolios and the creation of for-profit businesses.
Many non-profit start-up businesses come to me and often they have a wonderful agenda to help serve the local or international community or support the environment. I honor the people with these visions. I also see a major obstacle for them. Government support and personal fundraising are drying up. Non-profits need dependable income to keep them running and serving. On the other hand, I see corporations making their decisions based on short-term dollars versus common sense and ethics because their charter states their sole purpose is to serve their shareholders. I see this new model of social enterprise solving both these problems. The first problem is helping noble non-profits receive the income they need to continue their community service and healing of our planet. The second problem is that of for-profits focusing on their profits above the needs of their employees, customers, and the world at large.
The concept of social enterprise has given me hope for our future. It is a way to make a living while making positive changes in the world. It is a way to serve others without having to sacrifice one’s own life. It is the perfect blending of self-care and compassion for others. I hope A Safe Haven and the other social enterprise businesses can be a guiding light for other businesses to follow ushering in a new era of compassionate commerce.