The concept of social enterprises -- businesses and organizations that focus both on making a profit and a positive impact on people -- isn't new.

A well-known example is Goodwill Industries International, which pioneered offering "a hand up, not a handout" in 1902.

What's new is the explosive growth of such operations, especially in central Ohio.

When SocialVentures, a company that helps develop and fund businesses that try to solve social problems, was formed in 2014, only 18 social enterprises could be identified in the region, marketing director Sara Parker said.

About four years later, she said, central Ohio has more than 100 social enterprises.

"There's so much energy behind that movement, and we're so excited to be the hub," Parker said. "At the heart of social enterprise is impact, and that impact can take form and shape in a variety of ways. A social enterprise can offer a service and a portion of the revenue can go back into the mission work, or they can offer second-chance employment opportunities for people who have been incarcerated or victims of human trafficking."

A social enterprise can be challenging to define, according to the Social Enterprise Alliance, because the concept has evolved rapidly in recent years, increasingly blurring the lines of traditional business, government and nonprofit sectors.

The alliance, a national organization designed to provide social enterprises with resources and to advocate for sustainable social impact, grew out of the National Gathering for Social Entrepreneurs in 1998. It considers social enterprises to be "organizations that address a basic unmet need or solve a social problem through a market-driven approach."

Social enterprises "intentionally integrate social impact as a non-negotiable component of their business model through the people they employ or the social missions they support," according to SocialVentures' website.

"We offer social entrepreneurs mentorship opportunities and workshops," Parker said.

Local social enterprises include Freedom a la Cart in northwest Columbus, a catering operation that employs survivors of human trafficking, and Franklinton-based She Has a Name, a cleaning service staffed not only by those formerly caught up in human trafficking but also victims of domestic violence and substance abuse.

"For many of our ladies, it's essential to their success," Freedom a la Cart executive director Paula Haines said of offering both work and job training.

"If there is no business, there is no mission," said John Rush, president and CEO of She Has a Name. "I think it's important, especially when the needs are so great. There isn't always the capacity for grants and philanthropic dollars to meet these needs. If you can use standard business practices to meet customer needs at the same time as a social need, I think that's efficient and that's good for the economy, as well."

"Time and time again our employees say, 'This has changed me; this has provided security and stability in my life. I've become part of a family,' " said Kelsie Johnson, managing director of She Has a Name. "It's a lot of things they didn't have and wouldn't have."

The Clintonville Woman's Club is among the clients of She Has a Name cleaning service, and Rush said it's gratifying that such a storied institution as the club would have faith in his company and be willing to help women get a shot at starting their lives over again.

"It just seemed like a really good fit for the woman's club and what we are trying to do here," said Kristen Steinhausser, the club's director of sales and marketing. "They are doing a great job and we love having them here."

The popular Hot Chicken Takeover, with locations at the North Market, Clintonville and Easton, also has strong elements of social enterprise. Owner Joe DeLoss told Columbus CEO in 2016 that more than 70 percent of his workforce is composed of people who have been incarcerated or have other hurdles to employment.

Northland-based US Together, a statewide refugee- and immigration-integration service that was co-founded by Nadia Kasvin in 2003, launched a social enterprise called Welcoming City Career Connections in October not only to help clients find jobs but also to lead employee-starved businesses to available workers.

"The idea of social enterprise came up when we realized we could take all this 14 years of experience with new Americans and take it to another level," Kasvin said, referring to her organization's work with immigrants and refugees. "The idea of social enterprise is amazing, and I wish more nonprofits would look at social enterprise as an opportunity to provide unrestricted funding to meet the core mission."

Jennifer Kuntz, founder and CEO of Clintonville-based Greenleaf Training Services, said her for-profit company has been a social enterprise since it was launched more than two decades ago.

Greenleaf is an employment center for individuals with differing abilities that provides qualified job candidates with local employers.

"I think the tide perhaps of thought has turned and it's more inclusive and people are trying to change how things were always done before," Kuntz said. "Lots of money would be thrown at any situation and people were not seeing results. People are starting to say, 'Wait a minute, there's got to be a better way, better for the people we're trying to help.'

"Business people can definitely see the value and the social halo, if you will, so it's worthwhile to them."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1

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