21 May 2011

Home Free Bagels and Social Entrepreneurship




Ashoka an organization working to “allow social entrepreneurs to thrive and enables the world’s citizens to think and act as changemakers” points out that Social Entrepreneurship provides an opportunity for people to take charge of their communities in a way that enables positive growth while at the same time working for social reforms. Ashoka feels that, “Rather than leaving societal needs for the government or business sectors to address, social entrepreneurs are creating innovative solutions, delivering extraordinary results, and improving the lives of millions of people”.


Taking a step back, it’s important to understand the essence of Social Entrepreneurship… “Unlike traditional business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs primarily seek to generate “social value” rather than profits. And unlike the majority of non-profit organizations, their work is targeted not only towards immediate, small-scale effects, but sweeping, long-term change” (PBS 2005). Social Entrepreneurship steps outside of a number of pressing societal conventions. They create business that don’t rely on traditional metrics of profit and sales volume but instead add additional measures of success hinging on their ability to effect social change within their community. The terms Social Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise are often used interchangeably, the main emphasis being on extending the traditional focus of capitalist business ventures to have a primary focus on their ability to create social change. A social enterprise has an obligation to operate in ethically, socially, and environmentally responsible ways. It differs from traditional enterprise in that the priority is social justice rather than personal wealth.


I recently had the pleasure of meeting Chris Sullivan and getting an opportunity to talk to him about his personal venture in Social Entrepreneurship, Home Free Bagels. His plan strives to provide homeless members of the community with tangible stepping stones while at the same time satisfying a dearth of locally produced bagels. As he puts it, “Home Free Bagels is a social venture that seeks to provide employment opportunities for individuals experiencing homelessness, while also generating profits that benefit the Asheville Homeless Network. We make a bagel that exceeds the quality of any other in town, and we sell our delicious product wholesale to local coffeehouses and restaurants. In doing so, we present motivated and hardworking individuals from the homeless community with an opportunity to bypass the frustration and humiliation they often face in the employment market. I have personally watched enthusiasm turn to disappointment when an individual is turned away from a job that seemed to be a sure thing. One gentleman told me of a time when he reported for his first day of work, brought his sleeping bag, and the employer immediately turned him away. Stories such as that, plus a lack of quality bagels in Asheville, were the catalyst for Home Free Bagels. We value dignity, integrity, and loyalty, and seek to provide an environment that allows employees to foster these qualities, simultaneously building self-respect. Working for Home Free Bagels is more than a job and a paycheck; it’s a vessel for reintegration into mainstream society”.


Chris is passionate about the necessity of community investing in social entrepreneurship. He points out the success of President Obama’s campaign in asking people to donate in small amounts in order to build a grassroots effort that everyone felt part of. At the heart of his business model is his unwillingness to make compromises in quality or in his dedication to Home Free Bagels’ workers. He is absolutely committed to paying a living wage and making sure that Home Free Bagels honors its own ideals from the start.


While Home Free Bagels are currently only available in Asheville, North Carolina, the model that Chris has developed offers a perfect example of Social Entrepreneurship/Social Enterprise. Home Free Bagels is witnessing local success finding its way onto the counters of several local stores and caf├ęs, but there is still a need to build capital in order to ensure the longevity of the project. Chris continues to engage in a grassroots style fundraising campaign to continue to build a foundation for Home Free Bagels’ success. It may seem odd for a business to solicit contributions, but as Chris points out those contributions are an investment in the community and a demonstration that Social Entrepreneurship is important to the people of Asheville.


You can get more information on Home Free Bagels (and contribute to the cause) on Facebook. Also follow them on Twitter for the latest developments and information.

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