Before I became an intern at Rubicon National Social Innovations, I had little idea of what social enterprise entailed. I received a summer fellowship from U Penn with funding provided by the Levy Social Impact Fund at the Wharton School. I was intrigued with the internship position because it focused on a feasibility study on the viability of a weatherization and energy efficiency retrofit social enterprise and I had similar previous coursework related to sustainable energy.
My knowledge of social enterprise was limited to the notion that social enterprise somehow uses business skills to try to solve injustices or economic inequities throughout the world. With the little experience I had from doing community service in my spare time, I honestly could not distinguish one non-profit from another in terms of their strategies and approaches to having social impact. After a phenomenal and memorable 2-month experience with RNSI, I am proud to say that I can now make that distinction (or at least I think I can).
One thing that I have questioned over the years while participating in numerous service activities is how effective those service organizations are. Although their direct services were beneficial to those they were helping, it never seemed like lasting change in people’s lives was being made. By no means are these organizations unnecessary or obsolete; it just seemed to me that their work was “patchwork,” -- only temporarily providing relief.
That’s partly why I have continually been impressed by the work that Rubicon National is doing. The approach to battling a vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty is deeply rooted in creating sustainable, long-lasting employment opportunities powerful enough to lift people up and out of their predicament. The social enterprise models that are developed are truly innovative, creating social enterprises relying on market forces (for financial stability) and operating on a national scale to maximize social impact. They clearly break away from the patchwork model of traditional charities and make a lasting social impact in the communities that need the most help.
What’s more is that their recognition that social change and environmental responsibility do not have to be mutually exclusive, a tenet to which I firmly adhere. During my time here at Rubicon National, we have been diligently developing an energy efficiency retrofit service as a social enterprise that would create green collar jobs and pathways out of poverty in cities around the United States. Because of the federal mandate for economic recovery and climate change mitigation, Rubicon National realizes that retrofitting homes with energy efficiency measures creates excellent opportunities for the hardest to employ, offering training services and career advancement possibilities in a growing industry.
By leveraging tremendous volunteer support, Rubicon National has made significant progress on the enterprise that would not otherwise have been achieved. It is incredible how much buy-in to the project Rubicon National has received from corporate, civic and professional groups, accelerating the development process exponentially. Not only have the volunteers shown their interest in energy efficiency retrofits, but also that they genuinely believe in the potential it has for making a lasting social impact.
As my internship comes to a close, I am proud to say that I contributed meaningfully to Rubicon National’s energy efficiency retrofit enterprise. As biased as this may seem, I believe that Rubicon National Social Innovations is one-of-a-kind, having unmatchable experience in the field of social enterprise and a proven track record of success. They may just be getting their footing as social enterprise modelers, but they truly are the “laboratory for scaling social enterprise” and deserve much recognition for their work.