Photo: Providence Granola Project. Providence Granola provides refugees with employment and job training.
Around the world, people suffer from limited economic opportunities because of their backgrounds. Whether this be due to the class they were born into, a lack of education or marketable skills, a criminal record, or a language barrier, exclusion from the workforce can be a matter of life and death for these individuals and their families in the wake of personal, political and natural disasters. In a world where millions of people have been abandoned by the traditional economies of their countries, social enterprises have risen to the occasion to provide opportunity and hope.
Social enterprises are mission-driven organizations that seek to maximize social impact by selling products and services to fund their social mandates. Social enterprises provide vehicles for training and employing people with barriers to traditional employment.
We see social enterprises alleviating poverty in our own communities and around the world. For example, when Zaid arrived in my home state of Rhode Island as a refugee from Iraq, he didn’t know many people, he didn’t know much English, and he certainly didn’t have a job. It was 2008. The massive economic downturn had made it nearly impossible for anyone, let alone someone in Zaid’s position, to find work. Fortunately, through the International Institute of Rhode Island, Zaid met Keith, the co-founder of Providence Granola, a granola company that provides refugees with employment and job training. So far, Providence Granola has provided jobs for more than twenty refugees and sustained its job-training program through granola sales. Zaid isn’t alone in finding economic opportunity through a social enterprise, and Providence Granola is just one of over 30,000 social enterprises that operates in the United States (Business Week, 2009), not to mention that countless others making a difference in some of the world’s poorest countries.
Though social enterprises have made great strides in providing training and jobs for some of the world’s most disadvantaged populations, social enterprises themselves often struggle to reach consumers and sell their products. This is particularly unfortunate, given that consumers are increasingly interested in making socially responsible purchases, but they don’t know where to go to conveniently buy products that improve their communities.
From this context emerged the idea for Buy with Heart, an online marketplace that helps customers find the products they want while supporting the causes that matter. Buy with Heart is motivated by two core beliefs:
Buy with Heart provides substantial value for both social enterprises and consumers.
For many social enterprises, Buy with Heart provides their only access to online commerce. Others benefit from having another venue to reach customers, as well as additional promotional services, such as publicity through the Buy with Heart Blog and social media postings.
Buy with Heart provides consumers with a voice in their purchasing decisions by offering information about the social impact of each product and allowing customers to search by social cause. Furthermore, Buy with Heart handpicks the products on the site, seeking to have a broad appeal by offering items for people of all ages and backgrounds. Products currently listed on the site include clothing, food, stationery, and accessories ranging from scarves to iPhone Cases. Buy with Heart researches and communicates directly with each organization listed on the site, so consumers can have confidence that their purchases are supporting important causes.
Social enterprises are already having a substantial impact on poverty by providing support and employment for some of the world’s most disadvantaged populations. With the proper resources and support from consumers, they can make even greater progress in the long journey to eradicate poverty.
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