March 26, 2018 / 11:25 AM / a month ago

Could chocolate brownies boost U.S. businesses seeking to do good?

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Usually chocolate brownies come with a health warning but the head of a leading U.S. support group for businesses seeking to tackle social problems is hoping they can do some good by spreading the word about social enterprise.

Kila Englebrook, head of the Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA), said millions of passengers on Delta Air Lines - the second largest U.S. airline - eat brownies daily made by Greyston Bakery unaware of the company’s history.

Greyston Bakery was founded in Yonkers in New York State in 1982 to provide jobs to people regardless of their work history, criminal records, credit scores, or disability while giving profits to community projects.

The company now bakes and ships about 35,000 pounds of brownies every day to various customers including Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream and Delta Air Lines which last year flew more than 145 million passengers.

“If Delta Air Lines were to talk about what Greyston Bakery does, and how it is a social enterprise, think about the masses it could reach,” Englebrook told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from Nashville.

“There’s been a shift with the public in terms of products and services that have an impact or ‘do good’, but if you went up to someone on the street and asked them what social enterprise is, they’d be hard pressed to answer.”

For over two decades, social enterprises seeking to raise money to be used for social or environmental good have taken on growing importance in the United States as well as elsewhere as an increasingly popular means of funding social initiatives.

But despite coming top of a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll in 2016 to find the best country for social entrepreneurs, less than half of respondents from the United States thought the public had a clear idea of what a social enterprise is.

No definitive figure for the number of social enterprises in the United States has been published by any organization.

Englebrook said part of her job as chief executive of the 1,000-member Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) was to raise awareness about social enterprise.

Key examples of U.S. social enterprises include Toms Shoes, which uses profits to fund sight, water and anti-bullying projects in poor countries, and Kiva, which lets people lend money to low-income entrepreneurs and students in 80 nations.

Prior to joining the SEA last year, Englebrook led the Ashoka Support Network in the United States, connecting social entrepreneurs with business professionals for advise.

Englebrook said SEA provides a network for social enterprises but also lobbies governments on policy changes, attracting Democrats with the social impact and Republicans because of savings offered by helping people find work.

One of the SEA’s lobbying priorities is for social enterprise to be included in a special category of businesses owned by veterans, women and minorities so they can take advantage of government contracts set aside for such companies.

“Corporations and government are incentivized to procure from those companies. Social enterprise should be recognized in that category,” said Englebrook.

She doesn’t think the political climate for social entrepreneurs in the United States has shifted since President Donald Trump took office.

“I don’t know if social enterprise is on (his) radar ... (but) I have no reason to think it is because he hasn’t said anything about it,” Englebrook said.

Reporting by Lee Mannion @leemannion, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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