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Connecting People With Jobs and Dignity: Study.com Speaks With REDF

Feb 18, 2011

REDF is a nonprofit that links struggling individuals with social enterprises to help them find work and get back on their feet. We recently caught up with REDF president Carla Javits to learn more about the great work they're doing, and how they do it.

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By Megan Driscoll

Carla Javits, president, REDF

Study.com: How did REDF get started?

Carla Javits: In 1990, George Roberts, founding executive of the global private equity firm KKR, and his wife Leanne started the Homeless Economic Development Fund (HEDF). The HEDF was an operating program of his foundation to address issues of poverty and homelessness through micro-enterprise in San Francisco. This evolved into The Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), which started in 1997 to harness the power of business in developing a new model for employment. In 2004, REDF made a successful transition to an independent 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation. A quote from Mr. Roberts concisely summarizes the idea that is at the heart of REDF: 'If people don't have a job, they don't have hope. And if you don't have hope, what do you really have?'

Study.com: Please explain for our readers how REDF's investments in social enterprise organizations have put over 5,500 people to work in the San Francisco Bay Area.

CJ: Over the past fourteen years, REDF has seeded and grown social enterprises - nonprofit-run businesses that create jobs and employ people who are overcoming life's toughest challenges. REDF has provided funding (over $25 million in grants), hands-on business advice and support to dozens of social enterprises in the San Francisco Bay Area. These enterprises have employed 5,500 people overcoming histories of incarceration, addiction, mental illness, homelessness and chronic poverty; while also contributing by delivering quality goods and services, and strengthening the economic health of their communities.

Study.com: What types of enterprises does REDF typically invest in?

CJ: REDF invests in many different kinds of enterprises - from landscaping to recycling and stadium concessions to screen printing. What all of them have in common is that they create significant numbers of job opportunities for people with relatively little work experience, are relatively high-margin businesses with low capital requirements and are in industries with an unmet need for entry-level employees and high prospects for job growth.

Study.com: The REDF website notes that you fund organizations that employ 'young people disconnected from school and work, and adults who are overcoming barriers to employment.' Can you elaborate on the difficulties that many poor and homeless people face when seeking work, and how the organizations funded by the REDF help overcome these challenges?

CJ: For some people the challenge is the huge gap in work experience on a resume because they've been homeless for a decade; for others it's that they have been incarcerated and some employers just won't take a chance on them. Some young people have no work experience at all, and may not know many people who work so they are not prepared for the demands of a job - arriving on time, calling in when sick, dealing with negative feedback from coworkers or supervisors. The groups REDF works with really know and understand the people they employ, and are creative about providing the specific kinds of counseling, mentors and work environment that make it most possible for people to succeed.

Study.com: Can you describe some of the metrics you use to measure outcomes for REDF's investments, and what they've shown?

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CJ: Measuring outcomes has been a signature of REDF's work. We look at everything from the numbers of people employed, their wages and how long they stay in the workforce, to the revenues earned by the enterprises. Over the years we have found that social enterprise jobs have lasting impact: Among those interviewed two years after hire, 74 percent of employees were still working, an additional 12 percent were enrolled full-time in educational programs and wages increased by 32 percent. Social enterprise is also cost effective: The $25 million that REDF invested in these enterprises has generated over $100 million in earned income since 1997, defraying the costs of their on-the-job training and other services.

Study.com: REDF is currently focused on the San Francisco area, with plans to scale your model to all of California - a labor market that has been hit exceptionally hard by the recession. What will that process look like? Can you give us a timeline of your expansion?

CJ: We went live with a statewide request for qualifications in 2010, and will be announcing the new organizations we'll be working with in February! We expect that for the first time in our history, some of them will be outside of the Bay Area. Over the next five years we hope to expand to additional California communities and put 2,500 more people to work, even in the face of the tough economy.

Study.com: Many of our readers may be interested in investing or working with REDF. Where can they learn more about getting involved?

CJ: Please check out how you can get involved at REDF.org.

Study.com: Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about REDF and your organization's fight against poverty and unemployment.

CJ: At this time, when so many people are unemployed in the U.S., everyone understands how important it is to have a job. Think about it in your own life. The paycheck means a lot of course - but it's also about self-esteem, dignity, being part of something. That's what all the people who get jobs in social enterprise tell us. As the economy recovers, instead of leaving some people behind, we have a chance to include those who - long before the current downturn - were not part of the workforce. Making sure a whole lot more people are working is not only positive for them and their families, but for all of us. Together, we can make it happen!

Visit the REDF website to read success stories from people who have found work through the organization.

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