Evolution of the Churchill Fellowship Trip Purpose

When I started my Churchill Fellowship application I started with the premise that we in the UK who support social entrepreneurs could learn from the US models of social enterprise.

I particularly wanted to examine scale. Scale is a political minefield in the growth of businesses, some organisations see scale as key to longevity and profitability as well as economic impact in private business. In social impact it is as, or more, hotly debated but I wanted to consider whether scale was a differentiator or not, and how this affected issues like leadership, succession, profitability and impact.

After I reached stage 2 in my application I narrowed the focus to social firms or work integration social enterprises (a term for social enterprises who declare their impact to be helping those who are disadvantaged in the employment market into work through employment and training). I had realised that trying to get a sense of all social enterprises would be too woolly. The choice of social firms also reflects my first experience with social enterprises and one of my continued fields of interest in the sector – help someone find a job and you give them a future.

Then I had to start finding such organisations. I already knew Greyston Bakery who run an Open Hiring programme in Yonkers. This social enterprise makes all the bakery products, including cookie dough for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. They hire new people by calling the next person who has put their name on a list and starting them on their first paid day of work. Open Hiring operates on the principles that if a person comes to work then they will be supported to work.

Friends and contacts started connecting me with other organisations who could potentially host a visit. I was searching on the many organisations that work with businesses in this area too, as it is not just US non-profits or social enterprises addressing this issue.

My next contact came at a team meeting of the Centre for Social Innovation. I was seated next to a new person, a visiting academic on sabbatical at the Cambridge Judge Business School. When we had a tea I turned to him saying something like: “You are American and being part of this meeting you must be interested in social enterprise, I am looking to visit social enterprises that employ people who are disadvantaged in the workplace in the USA next year. Do you have any recommendations?”

Wesley Helms‘ reply changed my trip. He has family ties to a $6B social enterprise that did just that – Goodwill Industries. Goodwill LogoWhen he had recovered from surprise at my complete lack of knowledge of Goodwill, he started to help me both understand the organisation and make the introductions which helped me to focus on this organisation.

Goodwill Industries has 162 autonomous member organisations and was founded in 1902. The organisation has not only lasted for over one hundred years but has remained true to the Reverend Edgar J. Helms’ (its founder) mission of creating jobs and preparing people who are disadvantaged for work, using donations for thrift stores as a key revenue stream. I have learnt that every Goodwill is different but they are all committed to the same mission.

Goodwill Industries have impact reports from the early part of the last century and have developed an Executive Leadership Development programme to ensure sustainability through leadership in the organisations.

My trip evolved around Goodwill member organisations in cities where I had social enterprise contacts and ended up including visits to Denver, Colorado Springs, New Orleans, Washington, New York, Charlotte and San Francisco.

The plan was to augment Goodwill visits with more learning from other social enterprises, however with 162 organisations in one plus over 100 years of data including impact, I have discovered that Goodwill could keep me busy all year never mind just 8 weeks.

To put some context on the scale of the Goodwill organisations, consider that the State of Social Enterprise 2017 Survey in the UK, reports that the social enterprise sector contributes £24 billion to the UK economy. At the current exchange rate, Goodwill Industries’ turnover is one fifth of that figure.

I am attending the Goodwill Industries’s Delegate Assembly in June to meet more people and learn more . In addition to formal meetings and interviews, I am reading books, research reports and annual reports and visiting stores unaccompanied to learn more about this phenomenon. I am also meeting various social entrepreneurs and also learning about the US economy too.