Business

Social Enterprises are changing the world


As Nelson Mandela says, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Education is the key to eliminating gender inequality, to reducing poverty, to creating a sustainable planet, to preventing needless deaths and illness, and to fostering peace. Apr 23, 2013

A new breed of business—for-profit companies with social objectives at their core—is learning to solve global issues and still make a profit. The End of the Rainbow report presents a balanced view, including diverse cases and opinions and by examining the many challenges of social enterprise. It’s a story that has gone largely untold (or simply overlooked) despite the inspiring efforts of many LGBT organisations. These pioneers have demonstrated that it is possible to increase their social impact and their financial sustainability through entrepreneurship.

Some will be nay sayers: “This won’t work in my country or for my organisation.” To you, we say: read on! From Chile to Nepal to Turkey, from LGBT advocacy organisations to community centers, the diverse examples in End of the Rainbow speak for themselves. Others will have fundamental, philosophical problems with this “capitalist” approach to social change: “The market is evil!” To you, we say: let’s create a new market that is true to our values. The cases in End of the Rainbow demonstrate that social enterprise can both respect and further the mission of LGBT organisations.

Our initiative is intended to bring together entrepreneurial LGBT organisations and donors to promote and support alternative financing streams that enable LGBT organisations to increase their long-term financial sustainability and to increase their impact in the community.

The goal is to introduce social enterprise as an additional option for contributing to the sustainability of LGBT organisations. This includes many cases and examples of LGBT organisations that are operating entrepreneurial activities that generate income through the sale of products or services while also fulfilling other important social change goals.

LGBT organisations are pursuing social enterprises of all types for a variety of purposes. For some, social enterprise represents a new horison — an opportunity to generate both financial and social change through an entrepreneurial approach. For others, social enterprise represents the last of few options:“We really have run out of ideas for sustainability,” says one director of an LGBT organisation in South Africa.

Says another in Europe:“It’s so frustrating to get money for our work. We’re so pressed we’re even thinking of taking money from companies we never would have before.” Says another in the USA:“We need our own money.”

Whether out of choice or necessity, the LGBT organisations in End of the Rainbow are motivated to pursue social enterprise for one (or a combination) of the following reasons:

  • to remain independent and autonomous: For some (particularly advocacy) LGBT organisations, social enterprise represents power: an opportunity to generate and control resources of their own, to allocate these to priorities they identify as most critical or urgent, and to plan more strategically and long-term, unbeholdened to outside interests;
  • to generate financial resources: LGBT organisations are desperately seeking ways to pay for activities currently not (or under) funded, for those particularly difficult to finance (e.g., advocacy), or for basic operations, salaries or other “overhead ”expenses typically unattractive to donors;
  • to further social objectives: some LGBT organisations have found that an entrepreneurial approach, in fact, furthers their social purpose itself, for example, by expanding existing activities to benefit more beneficiaries, by offering new products or services to reach a new beneficiary group, or by reaching completely new (i.e., straight)audiences through the market;
  • to create income-generating opportunities for marginalised constituents: LGBT organisations are launching social enterprises for the express purpose of creating employment or other economic benefits to marginalised LGBT people themselves, e.g., transitional or full-time employment, job skills and training, and supplemental income.

There are limited data about finance and funding for LGBT organisations around the world. But even without these data, it’s evident that with few exceptions, LGBT organisations are under-resourced. Whether out of choice or necessity, an increasing number of LGBT organisations are turning to the marketplace to generate needed funding for their work or to achieve other mission objectives.

In an effort to present as broad a spectrum as possible of the potential application of social enterprise, we have included examples of LGBT organisations of different sizes and types (see sidebar), from various countries and regions around the world, and with different models of social enterprise. It is important to note that we have included numerous social enterprise examples from HIV/AIDS organisations. While we (and they) recognise that the LGBT community is not their only (or even their primary) target group, many of their social enterprise models are either directly or indirectly relevant.

LGBT organisations have begun to recognise the potential for promoting more gay-friendly tourism businesses as well as for generating income for their work through tourist-related social enterprise

Examples of LGBT social enterprises operating (or planned) for the purpose of income-generation for LGBT people:

– Association pour le Respect des Droits des Homosexuels (Burundi): LGBT cyber center, employing beneficiaries, includes a kitchen, sale of internet services, meeting room rental, producing stationery with computer center equipment.

– Behind the Mask (South Africa): Women’s Computer Skills Program designed for women survivors of verbal/physical abuse, many denied an education. In addition to technical training, classes include training on money management and job seeking. A beadwork program is an offshoot of the training and helps students gain income during the course.

– Blue Diamond Society (Nepal): The Cutey Beauty Salon provides transgenders skills and training to work as professional beauticians. The salon is a training center (less a business or money-making opportunity) to provide independent livelihood for transgender people, many currently making livings as sex workers.

– Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) (South Africa): One of FEW’s efforts to create economic opportunities for lesbian women in the community is an income-generating program. The first two projects, started in 2002, were a beadwork project in conjunction with Behind the Mask and another to produce AIDS ribbons for World AIDS Day for corporate customers. In 2006, FEW also began experimenting with catering and paid entertainment events.

– Fundamor (Colombia): Fundamor operates a network of enterprises, through which it provides employment to its HIV positive clients and to their families and friends. The enterprises include: an organic fruits and vegetable farm, a household cleaning products business, a school and work uniform clothing production enterprise, and a cookie company.

– GLCCB (USA): The LGBT center’s “Cee Bee Café” was intended to generate resources to sustain GLCCB’s organisational capacity while also employing and empowering Baltimore area LGBT at-risk youth.

– Housing Works (USA): Employs former Housing Works clients (all HIV positive), including graduates of the Housing Works Job Training Program, at all levels of staff and management. Housing Works’ Print Positive, a social enterprise selling silk-screening services (T-shirts) to outside customers. Clients learn the marketable skills of silk screening. Revenues from the printing enterprise support Housing Works’ Second Life Job Training Program.

– Pelangi Foundation (Malaysia): A former home for MSM living with HIV/AIDS. Besides residential care, Pelangi also started an alternative job program to provide income for HIV positive residents, including starting a dragon fruit farm and a printing shop.

– LGBT Excellence Centre Wales (UK): “Pink Pound Wales” is a program that empowers people to gain new skills and experiences to develop services and products needed by LGBT communities around Wales. Pink Pound Wales enables individuals and groups to create, plan, and deliver innovative projects that bring employment opportunities to those people that because of their sexual orientation or gender identity might have missed out on having the same opportunities as others.

– Pozitive Jump (Romania): A lot of young people were infected with HIV in the late 80s/early 90s through blood transfusions in Romania. Now they are unable to find employment because HIV and syphilis tests are required for employment. Pozitive Jump plans to start a farm enterprise where HIV positive people would work to grow an immune-boosting algae. The farm would sell the product to pharmaceutical companies, health stores, etc.

It is clear from the diversity of models presented in the previous chapter that each LGBT social enterprise is unique and particular to an LGBT organisation’s capacity, experience and surrounding circumstances. It is impossible to derive an equation for success or a formula for replicating successful models. However, the cases herein point to several common challenges LGBT organisations face in the process of developing social enterprises and this chapter attempts to identify these in an attempt to help overcome or mitigate them.


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