The SEI Theory of Change
Social needs are ever increasing, the level of philanthropy ever decreasing, and public policy is insufficient to bridge the gap, thereby creating a market opportunity favoring the rise of social enterprises. Social enterprises are those businesses that exist to fulfill a specific social need while operating profitably, and, at the same time, making a measurable, sustainable difference in individual lives. The Social Enterprise Institute @ Elizabethtown College (SEI) is premised upon the belief that persistent social problems can only best be addressed through such social enterprises, especially when they can draw upon individuals who seek meaningful, purposeful work as a significant part of their life and are educated for service. Which is why we are located at Elizabethtown College, because the belief that purposeful work builds and restores dignity is at the very core of its values.
Founded by members of the Church of the Brethren, the College believes that learning is most noble when used to benefit others and affirms the values of peace, non-violence, human dignity and social justice. The College's educational program fosters an understanding of education for a life of purpose, based upon a holistic model of student development that integrates career development with reflection on vocation, meaning and life and a commitment to civic engagement. As a result, graduates of Elizabethtown are prepared to make the world a better place; in part, by living in ways that reflect their individual commitments, respond to the needs of others, and value personal and ethical integrity.
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Our goal is to leverage off of the resources provided to us by Etown, which includes access to its faculty and students, to greatly enhance the chances of achieving positive social enterprise outcomes. Our approach is based in part upon the compelling evidence contained within research conducted at the High Center, at Elizabethtown College of the unique sustainability of social enterprises that take the form of family businesses. More specifically, we draw upon insights into the even more enhanced sustainability of the Amish family business form of social enterprise startups, drawn from the research conducted at The Young Center at Elizabethtown College. Evidence shows that more than 90 percent of Amish business startups succeed, compared to less than 35 percent of non-Amish startups. Relevant factors include the building of strong networks; commitment to apprenticeship and mentoring; family work ethic and encouragement to be self-starting; low overhead; and a preference for small businesses. Our plan is to mitigate the cost of social enterprise startup failure and the lack of sustainability by harvesting successful startup lessons learned from the startling success of Amish entrepreneurs. The SEI will thus develop a comprehensive, collaborative infrastructure that translates those practices for use by non-Amish social enterprises, while also creating a family-friendly living and learning community designed to support living wages. This will result in a lower rate of failure and a higher rate of sustainable enterprises addressing persistent social problems, thereby helping to effectively address more of these issues for a longer period of time.
Our primary target population is what is popularly referred to as the Millennials, who were born between 1982 and 2003 and represent 83 million people. They are the next large workforce group and, in fact, are projected to be 75% of the entire US workforce by 2025. They also happen to be more than ready to be engaged into the continued rise in social enterprises, as their values are fully in alignment with this movement: More than 75% say money isn’t the best measure of success, almost 70% say that giving back and being civilly engaged are their highest priorities. Moreover, they favor teamwork, are primed to do well by doing good, have the desire to be creative and to work on new and challenging problems that require creative solutions, want to know that they did a good job, share responsibility, desire a life work balance and work for an ethical organization that is socially responsible.