“Social enterprise can help communities fill in the gaps in legacy cities”

Media contact: Barbara Fornasiero, EAFocus Communications; 248-260-8466; barbara@eafocus.com

Flint, Mich. — Sept. 13, 2017 — Flint-based Social Impact Philanthropy and Investment (SIPI), a platform for change providing business and operational services to social enterprises and nonprofits, as well as implementation and administration of government programs, announced that CEO Steve Wolbert and COO/President Jason Ball, will present the results of their research on defining and advancing social enterprise in Michigan’s legacy cities at the Innovate Michigan Summit in East Lansing on Sept. 15.

Wolbert and Ball were selected via a competitive application process to participate in a co-learning project entitled ‘Defining and Advancing Social Enterprise in Michigan’s Legacy Cities’ as part of the Michigan State University 2017 project on Social Entrepreneurship in Legacy Cities. The MSU program is offered in conjunction with the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) University Center for Regional Economic Innovation (REI). Ball, the lead researcher on the project, defines social enterprise in Michigan as follows in the project white paper:

Social Enterprises are organizations that generate revenue by selling a product or service to serve their mission of delivering social value.

Social enterprise and social entrepreneurship are often used interchangeably; because their work focuses on organizations and not individuals, Ball and Wolbert use the term enterprise. Legacy cities, a special focus of SIPI, are cities that have lost at least 20% of their peak population, yet still have a population of 50,000 or more. Most legacy cities are located in the Midwest. Michigan’s legacy cities are Dearborn Heights, Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, Royal Oak, Saginaw, St. Clair Shores and Warren.

As part of their research, Ball and Wolbert met with the leaders of Grand Rapids, Mich. – area companies with a social purpose-driven business, including Cascade Engineering, which specializes in large-part plastic injection molding to solve unique manufacturing challenges around the world.  Cascade is a certified B-Corp dedicated to the Triple Bottom Line of People, Profit and Planet.  Social enterprise elements of Cascade’s HR initiatives include its Welfare to Career program and Returning Citizens program for former inmates.

The duo also studied Michigan-based social enterprise organizations located in legacy cities, including:

  • Commercial Nonprofit: The St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center (NLC), based in Flint, provides a faith-based environment for men and women to grow in self-esteem and develop skills to help their families become self-sufficient. NLC also operates two social enterprises to provide graduates of their employment training program opportunities for employment. These social enterprises earn revenue by selling both services (lawncare) and products (apparel and textile manufacturing).
  •  Social Business: Rebel Nell was started with the sole purpose of employing, educating and empowering disadvantaged women in Detroit. The company makes jewelry from unique local materials while providing a transitional opportunity for women in Detroit. Rebel Nell states its primary goal as restoring confidence in the women they hire. In addition to employment, Rebel Nell provides financial literacy, business education and a focus on life wellness to help women successfully transition to independence. Rebel Nell has an affiliate nonprofit organization that supports teaching, training, and personal growth for the women they hire.

The ultimate goal of the co-learning project for Ball and Wolbert is to arm economic development practitioners and policymakers in Michigan with guidelines for non-traditional economic development tools in a new era.

“Social enterprise can help communities fill in the gaps versus traditional economic development approaches, which generally do not ‘fit’ in legacy cities,” Ball said. “We need new approaches that help legacy cities empower individuals who have faced challenges in entering the workforce to move into jobs through social enterprise positions. These businesses and B-Corps like Cascade Engineering allow them the opportunity to accomplish that and move forward in their careers.”

Wolbert also noted that the wealth transfer from baby boomers to millennials will result in a shift in how people purchase certain products or services to advance a cause, rather than make a donation to traditional non-profits.

“The view of philanthropy is changing,” Wolbert said. “Research and my own experience in fundraising show that individuals will pay extra for a product or a service with a cause, or invest in an Angel fund for social impact initiatives, before they’ll make a straight donation to a non-profit. In this scenario, the emergence of social enterprise is both timely and responsive to changing giving patterns and a nod to the future demand for commercial products with a social mission.”

Ball’s expertise lies in working with visionaries and people passionate about their cause to develop plans, strategies, and the associated documentation that help ideas come to life. He is an experienced facilitator and consultant, having worked with a wide range of nonprofits, universities, local governments and state agencies to drive community and economic development projects throughout Michigan.

Prior to joining SIPI, Ball was the Director of Client Services for an economic development consulting firm in Lansing, which allowed him to serve several Flint organizations as a contractor. He holds a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Michigan State University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from Grand Valley State University. Ball is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and has completed National Charrette Institute Certification. He is also a member of the Michigan Association of Planning’s government relations committee and has served as chair since 2014.

After working in outreach and fundraising capacities in the non-profit sector, Wolbert created an opportunity at a large for-profit, Flint-based company to move beyond ‘checkbook philanthropy’ and into a more focused effort to show how corporations can positively influence a community. He saw the impact this model of philanthropy can create by facilitating and implementing community partner-driven projects at a for-profit pace. Born and raised in Flint, Wolbert is a board member of the St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center and the past board president of Genesee County Habitat for Humanity. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Community Relations from Michigan State University and a Master’s degree in Philanthropy and Development from St. Mary’s University (Minnesota).

This year’s Innovate Michigan! Summit features presentations on new economic development tools, models, policies, programs and practices along with community-university projects from around the state and provides an opportunity for participants to prioritize topics and ideas for future activities.  The Summit will be held at the Kellogg Center from 1:00 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 15. Ball and Wolbert’s presentation will take place from 2:45 to 3:25 p.m. To register, visit the Innovate Michigan registration page.

Ball will also speak on social enterprise in Michigan at the 2017 Annual Summit of the University Economic Development Association (UEDA). The event takes place from Oct. 1 through 4 in Long Beach, CA and convenes thought leaders from throughout the country to share best practices in university economic development.

About Social Impact Philanthropy and Investment (SIPI)

Flint, Mich.-based Social Impact Philanthropy and Investment (SIPI) was founded as a platform for change in 2015 to transform legacy cities into economic hubs of opportunity for all.  Working with social enterprises and nonprofits, SIPI’s services include operations, human resources, finance, data analysis, fundraising, contract negotiations, strategic planning, training and community development to help build self-sustaining organizations.  SIPI also implements and administers community-focused programs for local, state and federal agencies. Learn more at https://www.sipi-inc.com/.