Today we had the privilege of speaking with the leaders of two social enterprises in the area. It is through opportunities like this where the “experiential” side of our program comes into play. Getting out of the classroom and onto the production floor provided need inspiration in the midst of our brainstorming for our preparation for Seattle Pacific University’s Annual Social Venture Plan Competition.
Here we met with John Shepard, who led us through the facilities at Pioneer Industries explaining the different processes involved in manufacturing products for their primary customer, Boeing, as well as, the challenges that comes along with it. For those of you that do not know, Pioneer offers a variety of products to a wide range of industries. Their competitive edge comes with being a value added reseller of products that require skilled manual labor. They are competitive in the market because of their specific developed expertise with these specific products.
In applying their expertise in manufacturing, they are able to employ those re entering society from prison or jail and may suffer from a chemical dependency. In addition, through Pioneer Human Services, employs have access to an array of resources including healthcare, mental health services and housing. Holding true to the Social Enterprise model, proceeds from their manufacturing business (Pioneer Industries) go to support these services (Pioneer Human Services).
The Northwest Center
Right next door to Pioneer is the home of The Northwest Center, an inclusive business which harnesses the strengths of people of all abilities to add more value and quality to the products they sell. Their customers include Starbucks, Comcast and REI (to name a few), who are attracted by the extreme quality of their products. What makes the Northwest Center unique is that no one is turned away from employment and the proceeds from the sales of their products go towards funding an all inclusive schools for children, as well as, providing for the needs of children and adults with disabilities.
I learned so much for Northwests affinity to look at what everyone can bring to the table, not giving out charity but developing ways for all of their employees to contribute to the success of the company. They strongly believe in the value of diversity, not just as a form of philanthropy but as a means to which this community can foster growth.
Both of these companies are changing the way others look at employment and Corporate Social Responsibility. Instead of looking at limited programs that their business can fund, their business in itself is working to serve a need, empower others and raise awareness throughout all of their clients. Most importantly, they do not attract customers because of their mission (giving their customers that fuzzy feeling), but because they do their work well. Due to this, continue to seek them out for the specific skill sets they have developed in their employees.
All of this got us all thinking, as we are in the process of finalizing our social venture ideas… what an inspiration it was to see the possibility for social impact on such a large scale.
Stay tuned as we continue to learn from real-world examples of people making social and sustainable impact through business…..