I have to write a blog post about this because my sister is sick of hearing me talk about it (seriously, just ask her).
Dear Starbucks Corporate (Panera Corporate- please take note):
I love you. You know I do. But I have to bring this up because it’s really bothering me.
I co-own a business. It is legally set up as an LLC but I wholeheartedly believe that it contributes social value to the Raleigh community. There is no doubt it that provides economic value as well: through taxes, as well as the fact that it provides a place for small business owners to grow their businesses so that they, in turn, can provide value to the community.
You may wonder where I’m going with this seemingly obvious clarification.
Could we have been set up as a 501c3? Absolutely. Some coworking spaces are. We chose not to be. Not because we are profit-mongering bloodsuckers, but because it was the right decision for us. If we were a non-profit, would we have been paid a salary? Yes. Would our fundamental model have changed? Almost certainly not. We would still have charged the exact same fees-for-service in order to pay said salary in order to continue building our coworking space in order to continue adding social value to the community. 501c3 or not, they would have been the same fees because our expenses are the same.
So why can’t I hang a flyer on your community board?
If you stand by your decision to only support non-profits, help me clarify another issue I have. Upon seeking clarification of your flyer-hanging policy, I was told by one of your employees that I could only hang a flyer for something where there was no charge.
Wait a minute. Do I have to be a non-profit or do I have to be offering free products and services? These are not the same.
Yes, non-profits often offer things for free. But non-profits also often charge for their products and services. They have earned income streams. They charge fees-for-services. They sell tickets to galas, block parties, and fashion shows. VisionSpring sells eyeglasses. The SPCA sells items emblazoned with the SPCA logo.
And yes, businesses generally charge for things. But they also often offer free things. They offer happy hours, seminars, and workshops.
Before college, I had a very primitive view of social good: non-profits promoted social good; corporations did not. As a Human Services, I became intrigued by the idea of social enterprise, which I saw as a potential “solution” (I use that term loosely) to the apparent disconnect between “good” (promoting social change) and “evil” (making money).
But I am also an advocate for a strict definition of social enterprise, so where does that leave businesses like The Raleigh Forum, our new coworking space? I wouldn’t characterize us as a social enterprise, but I certainly think we contribute social value to the community.
We provide a hub for collaboration and community. We provide a much-needed alternative to working from home or coffee shops. We stimulate the local economy by bringing 20+ individuals downtown. We will recycle, use reusable water bottles, and conserve electricity when possible. We will make an in-kind contribution (desk space + meeting space) to Change the Triangle.
We’re not ending poverty or curing any diseases. And yes, we’re an LLC. But we are actively empowering individuals and groups so that they can make their own mark on the community.
Which makes me wonder how valuable labels like “social value” are if they have the potential to lead to confusion, disagreement, and disillusionment.
PSA to individuals in the Triangle who are committed to the field of social entrepreneurship: Compass Fellows is coming to Duke! Help spread the word.
It’s an exciting process: almost 2,000 will apply, but, given 15 fellowship openings per campus, only the best 180 will be selected. Think of it as
This Saturday, I attended Compass Partners’ Shift Series, a two-day conference on “New Approaches to Social Issues.”
I’ve been out of the networking/conference/event mode for a bit, but being back in it was fantastic. I realized how at ease and in my comfort zone I feel mingling, chatting about people’s ventures and ideas, and sharing my own.
I chose the “Future Innovators” track over the “Educators” track because I thought it would be more pertinent to my interests. We were joined by representatives from some great local organizations.
- Chat moderated by Philippe Chetrit of Affinity Lab, a
I have a track record of being incredibly excited about a new idea or project and then losing interest after awhile.
Contrived: deliberately created rather than arising naturally or spontaneously
Entrepreneur: a person who organizes and manages any enterprise
I got to thinking recently about what I call “contrived entrepreneurship.” In some- if not most- entrepreneurship, an individual sees a problem or gap in the market and determines a way to solve or fill it. But increasingly, there are classes & competitions & institutes & fellowships that provide people an outlet for creating a business or social venture- even if they don’t know what problem they’re seeking to solve.
Is contrived entrepreneurship just another means to an advantageous end? Does the way you approach a problem matter, if what you’re producing benefits the community?
On one side, I’ve seen a team of students at a social venture competition create an ill-conceived venture plan that was completely out of touch with the needs of their beneficiaries. In fact, they mentioned in their elevator pitch that they were searching for an idea- any idea- and this is what they came up with (they were promptly admonished by the judges, who stated that a person should never admit that during a pitch).
On the other hand, I took a Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership class, where I was required
It’s only 11:24am and I’ve already had two deep thoughts this morning haha. They are completely unrelated, but both relevant to things going on in my life.
Last night I was feeling a bit…blah. It was one of those nights when you don’t want to stay in but you don’t want to go out, you want to be social but you don’t want to be social- a tough predicament! Mostly I’m just ready to be back in NC, and I feel like I’m twiddling my thumbs until I get there. I thought how fun it would be to be out with strangers, not caring about what I said said or did, mingling, getting to know cool people…and the perfect opportunity arose! I had been invited to a group dinner and an event with someone I had met the previous weekend. In all honesty, I had every intention of backing out because I don’t know them well, but I decided to throw caution to the wind and go. I had SO much fun- we ate Mexican food (my favorite), played games at the Exchange with other DC Kickball league players, went to Dupont, played Skee Ball, and ate delicious late-night burgers. I would have missed all that fun if I had stayed in or stuck to my usual social engagements. Looking back, that’s not a very deep thought, but it was cool how such a fitting opportunity came up just when I needed it!
On a completely unrelated note, I got an email yesterday about logging hours for the Michelle Obama Service Challenge. Apparently, if you log 100+ hours of volunteering by Monday morning, you will receive “receive a certificate of achievement, a congratulatory letter from the President, and an official President’s Volunteer Service Award lapel pin.” Since I’ve done the hours, I figured I might as well get rewarded for them, even though that wasn’t my reason for doing them. But, when I went to log my internship hours with Social Enterprise Associates, I found an unexpected but not terribly surprising catch- SEA is a for-profit organization, so my 16 hours/week hours do not count toward the challenge. This got me thinking about the evolution of social enterprise (again, not surprising!) and how many people still believe for-profit and social good do not mix. I, like many of my peers, believe that for-profit or non-profit is just a tax structure- the social component can be present in either.
THIS got me thinking about my answers for my end-of-semester “learning outcomes” for my internship class.
What changes in your own belief system have resulted from your participation in this course?
Though I am still immensely interested in social enterprise, I have begun to see the limitations and challenges instead of believing it is a magical idea that will solve all of the world
So after several months on hiatus from blogging, I have decided to give it a shot again! There’s no particular reason that prompted me to begin again, but I’m excited to keep documenting my endeavors!
In just over 2 weeks, I will be back in North Carolina for the summer. My sister and I just signed the lease on our (her?) amazing townhouse, which is close to both downtown Raleigh and Glenwood. Most importantly, the cost of the whole place is less than a studio in DC!
Things I’m looking forward to this summer (in no particular order): Watching Friends every day. My brother’s wedding in VA. My 21st birthday. Country concerts- with cowboy boots and cowgirl hats. Babysitting for my amazing family (I love those girls!). Continuing to intern with Social Enterprise Associates. Spontaneous beach road trip. Sunday morning recaps of Saturday nights.
And mostly- spending every waking minute with my sister. We haven’t lived together in 7 years, but I am bubbling with the excitement at the thought of being reunited! As we like to say “Watch out, Raleigh. The Roman sisters are reunited!” When we’re together, the most mundane activities are suddenly fun- even just going to Target. And there is no one else in the world I laugh with as much as her!!
We’ve developed a new technique for when we get in little fights- we simply say “Let’s start over,” and then literally reenact the situation in a healthy, non-argumentative way. Genius, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure it will solve most, if not all, of our problems MUCH quicker than usual.
But before I head back to NC, I’ve been thinking about the past semester and how much has happened. I met Thomas Friedman, saw Bill Drayton, attended Ashoka events, came up with three business plans, interned….and that’s only on the professional side of life! Although I’ve absolutely loved all of those experiences, I’m really looking to taking a break from DC life to pursue other interests- like having fun I’ve been thinking a lot about the necessity of having balance in life lately, and I think having a chill summer will restore some balance to my life.
Those are all the deep thoughts I have at the moment
cmroman.wordpress.com will be a more personal account of my life, professional endeavors, academic journey, etc!
It seems like an opportune time to start this blog, especially since I am Facebook-free, as per #64 on the 100 Things List (go a week without Facebook). Mom and Sissy changed my password for me so I have no way of accessing my account! The past 11-ish hours have been liberating, but we’ll see how I feel at the end of 7 days!
Some exciting new developments:
-I submitted a business plan to MTV’s Movers and Changers contest, which called for business plans that address a social issue (the core value of social enterprise). It’s a long shot, but at least I got credit for my Entrepreneurship class! I have never felt so engaged while completing a class assignment. Sitting for 13 (yes, 13!) straight hours at Starbucks was completely worth the satisfaction I feel. It was a really eye-opening experience, and I’m definitely going to make changes to my class schedule for the next 3 semesters to incorporate business classes.
-I also entered the Pitch George contest, which is a competition where participants give short “elevator pitches” (which actually take place in an elevator) for business plans. The winner gets $2000! It’s on Nov 14, so I’ll update about my experience then!
-For a GW Social Enterprise Forum event, we are looking to hold a “SHE Soiree” for SHEnterprises (sheinnovates.com), which is an incredible social enterprise that seeks “to improve the quality of life for people in resource-poor settings” through market-based approaches. Essentially, they provide a woman in a village with the equipment to manufacture sanitary pads. Through this approach, they not only help women become entrepreneurs, but they also help attack a major health issue. This video clearly outlines the remarkable process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKmt7PwYPCY.
-We are working with Kelly Ann Collins, a prominent DC socialite/event planner/blogger (glittarazzi.com)
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