In the News

Towards Developing Illinois as America's Hub of Social Entrepreneurship

Wednesday, May 22, 2013
by Marc J. Lane

The spirit of social entrepreneurship is stronger in Illinois now than ever before. And Governor Pat Quinn and his staff believe there are lots of reasons to commemorate individuals and organizations dedicated to solving socio-economic and environmental problems of our state. The Governor has proclaimed this week as the Social Enterprise Week for the state of Illinois. 
Social entrepreneurs are visionary, optimistic, courageous, innovative, and risk-taking individuals who are driven to tackle societal problems using the power of business enterprise. They develop and assume leadership of companies whose mission is to create a more socially, economically and/or environmentally sustainable community through profitable entrepreneurial solutions.
Take Brenda Palms-Barber as an example. She wanted to help ex-offenders in Illinois find a second chance in life, and live normally and respectfully without suffering from stigmas of incarceration. With a $140,000 support from the Illinois Department of Corrections, she launched Sweet Beginnings in North Lawndale in 2007. Former inmates were hired and trained to care for honey bees, produce raw honey and honey-based body and skin care products, and carry out the administration of the company. Sweet Beginnings’ products like lip balm, body cream and shower gels are now sold in Wholefoods and O’Hare International Airport. While the company is profitable, its social impact is enormous. Less than 4% of Sweet Beginnings’ staff has returned to prison, as compared to the national average of 65%.
Neli Vazquez-Rowland and Brian Rowland wanted to be a part of the solution too. The couple started A Safe Haven in 1997 to uplift homeless individuals and victims of drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness, including veterans in Chicago. They purchased an abandoned 13-unit apartment building in Logan Square and converted it into a shelter. Today, A Safe Haven has a network of 28 facilities transforming lives of individuals from crisis to self-sufficiency. Residents are trained with employments skills and offered food, clothing, shelter, moral support and encouragement to become confident and responsible citizens. In 2011-2012, over 5000 individuals participated in its programs. A Safe Haven also hires the residents to run its other businesses, including those on pest management and landscaping.
Elise Zelechowski, the Founder and Executive Director of Delta Institute’s Rebuilding Exchange, is dedicated to reducing the landfill problems using principles of sustainable deconstruction. The Exchange is in the business of reclaiming building materials and turning those into reusable materials that are sold through retail. Since its inception in 2009, Rebuilding Exchange has generated reusable materials worth over $2 million and prevented thousands of tons of building material from entering into landfills.
These are just few examples of social entrepreneurs and enterprises helping to build a sustainable Illinois. Recognizing the potential of social entrepreneurship, Governor Quinn issued an Executive Order in November 2011 establishing the Illinois Task Force on Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Enterprise. The Task Force is promoting the social entrepreneurship movement in the state by offering advice and recommendations to the Governor’s office on several fronts. Those include recommendations on: social entrepreneurship investment opportunities; social entrepreneurial capacity building needs of nonprofit organizations and governments; and strategies for development of innovative, scalable and financially sustainable social entrepreneurial ventures in the state.
Operational since the summer of 2012, the Task Force is a multi-stakeholder body actively engaging citizens, for-profit, not-for-profit and government agencies from within and outside IL. Since its launch, the Task Force has successfully led various initiatives. Its recommendation to amend Illinois' L3C law, having unanimously passed the Illinois Senate, is under consideration in the state’s House Rules Committee. L3C stands for Low-Profit Limited Liability Company. L3C is a hybrid organization that occupies a space between the for profit and not-for-profit organizations. Unlike a traditional LLC, an L3C’s primary focus is advancing societal wellbeing, and profit maximization mission is secondary. The original L3C law covers organizations that have a charitable or educational purpose. The new Bill expands the L3C’s reach to include religious, scientific and literary organizations and organizations whose purpose is to prevent cruelty to children or animals, or to promote national or international amateur sports competition.
Based on the Task Force’s recommendation, Governor Quinn is also supporting the development of Social Impact Bond opportunities in Illinois. Social Impact Bonds, also known as Pay-for-Success Bonds, are an innovative way for government to finance social programs. These bonds involve government’s contract with service providers or investors who are ready to take risks and provide upfront costs to support social programs that normally lack government funding. Once the program demonstrates successful social outcomes, with the government realizing cost savings, the investors get their money back and possibly even a return on investment.
The Aurora-based Dunham Fund, Rockefeller Foundation and Harvard University Professor Jeffrey Liebman are also supporting the Task Force to help launch a state-wide social impact bond initiative in Illinois. Professor Liebman and his team in the Harvard Social Impact Bond Technical Assistance Lab are providing technical advice on an institutional framework that would be required for strategically implementing a Social Impact Bonds Funding Model in Illinois. If such a model is adopted state-wide, then it would mean certain problems which have not received priority because of lack of government funding may be tackled through such social innovations funding mechanism.
Indeed, these and various other initiatives, citizens and organizations are coming together to take the social entrepreneurship spirit and capacity of our state to the next higher state of being. With more robust institutional frameworks and committed workforce of social entrepreneurs in our state, we envision building Illinois as America’s hub of social entrepreneurship. Please join us in celebrating Illinois’ first Social Enterprise Week and thanking the social entrepreneurs around us for their contributions to our lives and our state.


Mr. Marc Lane is the President of the Law Offices of Marc J Lane ( in Chicago.  He has been appointed by Governor Quinn to serve as the Chairman of the IL Governor’s Task Force on Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Enterprise. He is also the President and Director of the Social Enterprise Alliance Chicago.  He can be contacted at

Dr. Aarti Sharma is the Founder of Sustainable Value Alliance (, a boutique consulting firm in Woodridge, specializing in corporate sustainability and sustainable development strategy formulation and implementation. She serves on the Governance and Business Opportunities Committees of the IL Governor’s Task Force on Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Enterprise. She can be contacted at and

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