In the News

Spotlight on Chicago Chapter

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Posted on December 19, 2012 in Chapter News

Edited by Madeline Graham, Chapter Services Leader

Marc Lane (chapter chair) took some time out to answer our questions about the SEA Chicago Chapter. 

When did you become a chapter? 


What has been your biggest achievement(s) since becoming a chapter? 

  1. Host of the 2011 Social Enterprise Alliance National Summit
  2. Spearheads Illinois Task Force on Social Innovation, Enterprise, and Entrepreneurship
  3. 2012 Host City for the Global Social Capital World Forum ~ Living Bridges.  SEA-Chicago convened SEA, Chicago Ideas Week, GroupOn Grassroots, The MacArthur Foundation, and Illinois Task Force On Social Innovation in a discussion on The Next Generation of Social Enterprise.  The event was attended by nearly 200 local social innovators, practitioners and community leaders, and transmitted Livestream "world wide".  More than 1,000 tweets went out around the event.
  4. Finally, we have grown to become the largest "go to" resource that serves the Midwest and beyond on Social Innovation and Enterprise and have attracted the industry's leaders as members of the board of directors.

What is the social enterprise community like in your city/region? How does your chapter fit into that community? 

Within 2012, several Chicago-based social enterprise incubators / accelerators have launched including Impact Engine, Panzanzee and Praxis Labs. These incubators are hoping to capture social-purpose start-ups, train them, position them for debt service/angel investors and release them; then repeat the process creating a unique pipeline of social ventures coming out of Chicago.  Furthermore, innovation and tech start-up incubators/accelerators, like 1871 and Chicago Built have either added a component for social enterprise or consider themselves to be social enterprise-friendly. For example, 1871, an start-up incubator, co-working facility and social enterprise, attracts social innovation programs like the Moral Pitch, sponsored by the Acumen Funds' Chicago+Acumen group and programming from Impact Engine which was partially created by former CEO of Silicon Valley start-up OpenTable, Chuck Templeton, which is a 12-week social enterprise launch pad.

Unemployment Still Remains High
According to a recent survey, by NetImpact, an industry association, more than 70% of college students and 50% of workers surveyed were looking for jobs in social impact. Nearly 60% of the college students surveyed were even willing to take a pay cut in order to work for a company that represents their values. Pamela Hartigan, Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, states, “College career centers are not yet in a position to give them the right kind of advice. I've seen a steady stream of graduate students knocking on my door to get guidance.”

Brittany Graunke, Founder and President of Zealous Good, and a highly engaged member of SEA Chicago community, represents this pool of talent. Prior to starting her for-profit company, she was employed at Bain & Company and was a graduate of Northwestern University Kellogg School of Business. Her subscription-based website links nonprofits seeking in-kind donations to generous donors seeking to rid themselves of unwanted items. She's now in her second year of operations and as of June, she had over 100 nonprofits subscribed and $204,049 in-kind donations.

However, the economy is holding this potential market from growing because the unemployment rate for Chicago, as of June, was 9% -- still above the State's rate of 8.7%. This has disproportionately hit recent college graduates who are the most interested and eager labor pool for the social enterprise industry. According to Andrew Sum, Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northwestern University, “nearly half of all recent college graduates are either malemployed [college grads working in positions that do not require a college degree] or unemployed – and the number is growing.”

Chicago is not on the Map, “yet”, for Social Innovation
It is well-known that the United Kingdom and Singapore have thriving networks of social enterprise and its utilization of the model is well woven within government legislation and within the fabric of both economies. Specifically, the UK's government Big Society policy that aims to create a climate that empowers local people and communities. Within the Big Society Manifesto, its priorities are “to support co-ops, mutuals [British equivalent to the B-Corp], charities and social enterprises.” Big Society is big business, as the UK government has plans to unlock $78 billion pounds in charitable assets for big society and have over up to 25% of public service contracts to the private and voluntary sectors.

Singapore is taking social innovation to another level, but creating a Social Enterprise Stock Exchange and in order to build a stock exchange with only mission-driven companies it requires critical mass of investors. This is a challenging feat, but Singapore is pretty close to turning that into a reality.  Benchmarking the US against the international landscape of social enterprise, demonstrates we are well below the curve, but most importantly Chicago is below the national curve. The east and west coasts have thriving networks and resources that make for a breeding ground for social enterprises. Specifically, Silicon Valley, New York and Seattle – they rank highest because of its talented labor pool, the high-level of educational opportunities and research around social innovation, and the cultural attitudes towards giving to charitable causes.  Although Chicago is home to huge tech giants like Groupon and Grubhub, it was not too long ago that YouTube and PayPal started out here, but left for uber innovative and the tech-cool city of Silicon Valley, because they felt the west coast was a better fit.

This is a prime example that Chicago is not on the map for social innovation and entrepreneurship, but it could be on the fast track with its new Mayoral leadership. The Chicago Sun Times recently covered a story in late June, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated, “He's determined not to let the ‘the next big thing' get away.” Emanuel is doing this by creating programs like ThinkChicago, which selects highly talented college students and exposes them to entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as providing full access to Chicago Ideas Week (CIW). CIW debuted last year and is a seven-day event featuring marquee speakers and interactive sessions that Emanuel and Groupon Founder, Brad Keywell, envision to be the best known idea symposium in the nation. The CIW also manages the Bluhm/Helfand Social Innovation Fellowship, which is a highly competitive program bringing three social entrepreneurs from across the globe to Chicago Ideas Week and provides them with robust trainings and workshops to assist with exposure, scale and expansion.

At the same time, the State of Illinois is positioning itself to be a leader in social enterprise with a recent Executive Order created by Governor Pat Quinn for The Taskforce on Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Enterprise. The purpose of the Task Force is to “make recommendations on how to strengthen the capacity of Illinois to work cooperatively to create, scale, and sustain innovative social programs; build the capacity of nonprofit organizations and government to pursue entrepreneurial ventures; and attract funding to Illinois to support these ventures. The Task Force will advise the General Assembly, the Governor, and agency heads…” The Chair of the Task Force, Marc J. Lane, Esq., was the driver in launching the Chicago Chapter, convening and identifying board members and has served as Board Chair of the chapter for three successive years.

What are you currently working on as a chapter?  

We recently were awarded a $10,000 grant from Boeing Corporation to help the Chapter build capacity.  This will be a priority for the chapter in 2013.  Equally important, with the launch of the Task Force on Social Innovation, four members of SEA-Chicago serve as Task Force Committee members and the Chapter's chair, Chair's the committee.

The purpose of the Task Force is to make recommendations on how to strengthen the capacity of Illinois to work cooperatively to create, scale, and sustain innovative social programs; build the capacity of nonprofit organizations and government to pursue entrepreneurial ventures; and attract funding to Illinois to support these ventures.  The Task Force shall advise the General Assembly, the Governor, and agency heads.

What are you most looking forward to for your chapter? 

SEA Chicago plans on completing future strategic planning processes, but plans on sustaining the programs and activities stemming for the strategic plan. We plan to sustain these activities by the following:

  • Seek out additional funding opportunities with Foundations, Corporations and Government agencies
  • If, the Chapter Board decides to move forward the Social Enterprise Certification Program will become a source of revenue
  • Create fee-based workshops and programs
  • Increase membership and awareness of SEA Chicago Chapter
  • Create additional fee for service activities
  • Partner with other educational programs, incubators/accelerators and higher education institutions, specifically continuing to pursue MOU efforts with Kellogg School of Management to be a key partner in the planning and execution of a Certification program
  • Continue to strengthen and align the chapter with the White House Office of Social Innovation initiatives
  • Develop more speaking opportunities

What are your hopes and dreams for the social enterprise field in your city/region and as a whole?  

Anticipated outcomes from capacity building to support growth of the chapter:

  • Create a strategic planning task force of Board Members, existing social enterprises and SEA Chicago Chapter members to help ensure successful outcomes of planning: creating a Task Force allows us to maximize our capacity as an organization without exhausting our leadership's capabilities to keep the shop running, while planning for our future.
  • Developing robust and relevant educational programs: since SEA Chicago's inception, it has been a priority in developing educational programming to fill learning gaps within the industry. Furthermore, it is important that SEA Chicago develop not just an annual program, but a three year program that increases in the sophistication and business savvy of our membership base by continuing to challenge and support those organizations that need more seasoned support.
  • Creating opportunities for peer support and networking through strategic partnerships and collaborations with other like-minded social innovation organizations and agencies:  it is important to continue to bring opportunities to our membership and partner with other programs, agencies and organizations. We specifically want to examine how we can support the efforts of the Illinois Task Force for Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Enterprise, as well as any opportunities with the White House Office of Social Innovation. Finally, we plan to definitely work closely with the current incubators by potentially becoming a two-way referral partner to link members to opportunities and incubator participants to the additional resources SEA Chicago has to offer.
  • Aligning SEA Chicago with national, state and regional programs: SEA has made significant strides within the past two years and was asked by the White House Office of Public Engagement, which is part of the White House Office of Social Innovation to submit a white paper that would make a case for supporting social enterprise at the federal, state and local levels. The white paper was submitted to the Office of Social Innovation in July.

We would support similar advocacy activities that would encourage government intervention by 1) utilizing government seed capital to create Social Enterprise Investment Funds and 2) significantly expanding preferential government purchasing programs. These are two recommendations provided in the SEA white paper to the White House Office of Social Innovation.

  • Advocate and support public policy advancing social enterprise – as mentioned in earlier responses, SEA Chicago continues to advocate for business entity models like the L3C and B Corp, as well as support larger SEA National public policy and initiatives to advance social enterprise.
  • Developing a feasibility study for a Social Enterprise Certification Program. This idea was inspired by Unilever's advancement in the certification industry through its success for co-establishing a certification of sustainable fisheries program, along with the World Wildlife Federation, called the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The MSC is a gold standard for ecolabels which have become a consumer trusted brand for those purchasing seafood. Over twenty years has past and the ecolabels have generated nearly billions in revenue for the MSC. Unilever is spearheading a similar initiative for a national organic standard for personal care products and test new labeling on product lines, like Burt Bees.  SEA Chicago would be interested in examining the feasibility from both a:
  • Business/Practitioner Perspective – nonprofit managed and/or independently managed social enterprises can apply and receive a certification seal that would essentially designate the organization as a sustainable social enterprise based upon specific criteria, code of conduct and/or guiding principles (TBD).  Certification may potentially include a rigorous training program and can be customized to support organizations at all levels of social entrepreneurship activities (i.e. emerging, existing “red” and existing “black”).
  • Corporate Social Responsibility Perspective – corporations can apply and receive a certification seal that would essentially designate that as supporting sustainable mission driven social enterprises based on business to business transactions. This would be based upon specific criteria that could be identified in tiers, similar to LEED certified, “gold” “silver” SEA certified, which would indicate a level of engagement a corporation conducts with social enterprises.

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Copyright 2012, Social Enterprise Alliance. All Rights Reserved.

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