Connecticut has been searching for an identity that will help us emerge from the shadow of New York and Boston to become a magnet for business and job growth. Social Enterprise could be our secret sauce.
Social enterprise is a huge and growing movement around the globe, an idea whose time has come. And while many states are working to develop social enterprise ecosystems of their own, no other state has laid claim to this identity - yet. So let’s grab it quickly!
There’s a number a reasons it makes sense for Connecticut.
We have a rich history of social innovation. We’re the home of the first written constitution. And the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who is credited with singlehandedly raising the conscious of a nation to recognize the immorality of slavery. Connecticut can boast the country’s oldest continuously published newspaper, its first public art museum (The Wadsworth Atheneum), and its first public park (Bushnell Park).
We have an impressive number of highly respected, socially progressive colleges and universities, many of whom are now offering programs in social enterprise and are increasingly graduating students who are not just interested in but insistent on meaningful work.
We have a tremendous amount of wealth in our state, held by corporations, foundations, and individuals who are interested in going beyond socially responsible investing to making “impact investments” and measuring the return on their investments on multiple bottom lines.
And most recently, on October 1st of 2014, we passed the most comprehensive social enterprise legislation in the United States. It not only recognizes Benefit Corporations, but enables shareholders to voluntarily elect a preservation clause to protect a company’s status as a social enterprise in perpetuity.
On the first day it was possible to do so, more than 20 companies, including The Walker Group, registered to become the state’s first social enterprises. Even before the legislation passed, Connecticut was home to some of the best known social enterprises in the United States: Newman’s Own, one of the oldest and most recognizable social enterprise brands, and Jackson Labs, a nonprofit which generates a significant percentage of its operating revenues from the sale of lab mice.
Social Enterprise is complementary our public policies and to the sectors we are working to develop, such as biosciences and green technologies. And social entrepreneurs start the kinds of companies that people are proud to work for, proud to patronize as customers, and proud to invest in.
Let’s capitalize on these strengths! In doing so, we can hold onto our young graduates, who may stay in Connecticut to start their career or to set up their own social enterprise. We can attract social entrepreneurs from other states who come here for training, resources, and to join a community that understands and supports the idea of building businesses focused on making a better world for us all. And by developing our social enterprise ecosystem, we will attract impact investment dollars to further benefit the state.
ReSET (SocialEnterpriseTrust.org) has helped to build an engine here in Connecticut that can spearhead this effort. With programming aimed to help launch new social enterprise, co-working, space, mentors, funding, and the social enterprise challenge which gave out $50K in cash and prizes this year there’s a lot of support to help make it happen. And with this progress we’ve seen increasing support from the municipal and state governments as well as business and the nonprofit community. It could happen!
It’s revolutionary, it’s evolutionary, and it’s sexier than being known as the “Nutmeg State” or the “Land of Steady Habits.”
Let’s be the state that encourages businesses which create jobs to solve community problems.
Let’s make Connecticut the social enterprise state.