Friday, March 21, 2008

A Message From Rick Aubry

Bold. Audacious. Risky. Essential. Foolish. Critical. Necessary. Quixotic. Impracticable. Romantic. Impossible. Unrealistic. Finally . . .

These are just some of the adjectives friends of Rubicon use as I describe our new vision for social enterprise in the United States. Our vision is now embodied by our new Rubicon National Social Innovation team. Many of you know Rubicon Programs. For 35 years we have created jobs, housing, services and hope for people and communities left out of the mainstream, including homeless people, residents of neglected communities, people in the mental health system, formerly incarcerated people, young fathers wanting to re-engage with their families and many other marginalized communities. We have built social enterprises, worked with employers to create pathways into the mainstream, taken vacant land and turned it into affordable housing and created innovative programs which have become models for others. Our work has been focused in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we have served over 50,000 people the last 20 years.

Most notably, we are seen as a leader in the field of social enterprise in the United States. Rubicon Landscape and Rubicon Bakery are oft sited examples to define social enterprise in the United States. With our roots in Richmond, one of California's most economically disadvantaged communities, our entrepreneurship was born out of necessity. We have had to rely on innovation, bold ideas, and scrappiness to survive and build an organization which has a direct impact on the people we serve and on helping build and define the field of social entrepreneurship.

We are proud that our positive social impact has been recognized with accolades such as the Fast Company Magazine's "Social Capitalist of the Year" five years running, Time Magazine/CNN's "Principal Voices" on social entrepreneurship, and our selection to be a part of the yearly World Economic Forum's "Schwab Foundation of Social Entrepreneurs" since 2001.

However, we have always tried to rely not on past successes, our own press releases, or to drink our own kool-aid as we contemplate our future. During a comprehensive strategic planning process, we concluded that amongst the variety of integrated solutions we offer to create paths out of poverty for people and communities, our best chance to dramatically change the system is to more than just improve our performance within that system as a great but local non profit. We must re-imagine the scale, scope and impact of social enterprise in the United States, and build a game shifting national social enterprise. To do so, we have created a "laboratory for scaling social enterprise" which we hope will bring social enterprise to a national level in the United States.

We believe that for social enterprise to have a significant impact on poverty and employment opportunities in America, it must be re-imagined on a much greater scale with the focus on a national business model of greater social impact and public presence then is widely seen today. We believe social enterprise as non profit poverty alleviation strategy has been important but limited in its impact, even for field leaders such as Rubicon. Rubicon currently runs small to mid-size businesses in a local market, similar to virtually all the other social enterprises which have been created during the past 20+ years of the social enterprise movement. Aside from the national thrift shop models created by St Vincent De Paul, Goodwill Industries and others, social enterprise remains predominantly local.

For us to move from a regional to national platform we have committed to a significant organizational re-structure to maximize the likelihood of success in creating a national social enterprise. We are leveraging our experience, relationships, and reputation to create a special "National Social Innovation Team". We set out to bring on new project staff to develop a new Social Enterprise business model. From a 35 year old success story, this small "start up team" will focus on developing business models that fit within a national social enterprise model.

We brought on an amazing dream team of folks with deep experience in the social enterprise, corporate and marketing worlds and launched November 2007. Our team is building partnerships with individuals and organizations around the country with aligned interests to broaden our intellectual capital.

At the heart of our exploration is the recognition that for social enterprise to be a powerful tool of social change, we must imagine and develop a greater scale and a national platform. We are finding that when we consider opportunities from this radically different perspective, there are exciting new ways to fundamentally re-structure the way social enterprise can address poverty in the United States. I invite all of you to stay tuned for what's coming and to actively join us as a business idea submitter, advisor, and financial supporter of our start up work.