Thursday, August 26, 2010

Small Dollar Lending Receiving Federal Support

By Josh Engle, Summer Associate and MBA Candidate at Northwestern University

The inclusion of a loan-loss-reserve provision in the recently passed Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act signifies increasing federal-level interest in small-dollar lending. These loans, unsecured and under $2,500, offer low- to moderate-income individuals a safe alternative to predatory lending. The still undetermined amount of funds will provide lenders with bandwidth to begin or expand small-dollar programs. It will be particularly useful to smaller community development financial institutions that will only have to put up an equivalent of 50 percent of the distributed dollars

Additionally, the legislation authorizes technical assistance grants that will help organizations get their staff and technology up to speed while demonstration grants will focus on small-dollar alternatives bundled with financial literacy and education.

Meanwhile, the FDIC just wrapped up its small-dollar loan pilot and will be focusing on technology and guarantees from this point forward. This shift reflects a mood of supporting the marketplace mechanisms that are nearly ready to provide access to under or unbanked people.

The federal environment seems to be moving quickly in the direction of supporting small-dollar lending and Emerge Workplace Solutions, Inc., New Foundry Venture’s first portfolio company, is well positioned to help lending institutions take advantage of this trend with its integrated technology and education platform. Through lining up employer partnerships and facilitating the loan, repayment, and education process for lenders, Emerge strives to make it as easy as possible for financial institutions to grow their small-dollar loan programs.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

GETS Energy Services Launches!

In our work to create social businesses that address significant problems in the U.S. we both create businesses ourselves (such as Emerge Loans) and we also work with community partners to find the best business models for creating a scalable solution. At New Foundry Ventures we are fortunate to work with many great partners in creating and scaling social enterprises. One of those partners is Rising Sun Energy Center, a Bay Area nonprofit with whom we have been working with this past year to help create an energy efficiency social enterprise. Rising Sun is now ready to launch the fruits of our collective efforts as a new social business. Here is some information about this exciting project!!

Please join us in celebrating the launch of GETS Energy Services, the pilot model of our Energy Efficiency Enterprise! We are excited to be piloting an enterprise in the energy efficiency space as we see this business model as a viable and sustainable social enterprise that can be replicated across the country (learn more).

GETS Energy Services is a triple bottom-line social venture that provides subsidized energy upgrade services to moderate-income residents in Berkeley and Richmond, California, while also providing transitional employment to graduates of Rising Sun's GETS (Green Energy Training Services) workforce development program. The workforce development program is a part of RichmondBUILD, an organization that seeks to meet the particular job training and support needs of Richmond residents, 40 percent of whom live in public housing and 30-40 percent of whom have a history with the criminal justice system. RichmondBUILD's goal is to provide job skills to people between the ages of 17-35 who are facing barriers to employment.

Our Partnership
In partnership with Rising Sun Energy Center, a Berkeley-based nonprofit, New Foundry Ventures is building on the growing market demand for home retrofits and the$625 million the government has already invested in green job training. This venture uniquely addresses the need for transitional jobs, hands on experience, and a more supportive work environment for green jobs graduates in the energy efficiency space.

Rather thanduplicate efforts, our two organizations decided to collaborate in early 2010 when we realized we were both working on an energy efficiency social enterprise that could be replicated in multiple communities. This partnership combines our proven ability to create successful and sustainable social enterprises and Rising Sun's expertise as a leading green workforce development and energy retrofit services organization, with over 15 years of green jobs training experience. This pilot will help us refine our Energy Efficiency Enterprise model and develop a turnkey 'business plan in a box' that can easily be replicated in other communities. We will then work with
Rising Sun to begin scaling this model through partnerships with other organizations across the U.S.

GETS Energy Services enterprise sets out to achieve three goals: improve moderate-income homeowners’ quality of life by lowering utility bills and making their home more comfortable, healthy, durable, and energy efficient; provide qualified graduates of Rising Sun’s GETS (Green Energy Training Services) with their first experience working in the green sector; and finally to reduce CO2 emissions.

How You Can Get Involved
Want to help create jobs in the green sector, help moderate-income homeowners reduce their energy bills, and help reduce CO2 emissions from the atmosphere - then call us about how we can help you start your own energy efficiency enterprise!

To learn more about GETS Energy Services, and determine if you or your friends can potentially benefit from its services, please contact Rising Sun at 510-655-1501 extension 17 or visit the website.

Stay in touch with us during this exciting stage of our development by following us on Twitter @GETS_ES and @newfoundry, and on Facebook at GETS Energy Services and New Foundry.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Greening Our World, One Job At A Time

By Ashima Sukhdev, Summer Associate and Junior at University of Pennsylvania

The term “green collar economy” first made a lasting impact on me when I heard Van Jones speak at Penn during my freshman year. Van Jones, who has been known as the green jobs czar, is an environmental and human rights activist who served as the green jobs advisor in the Obama White House in 2009. He champions the idea that we can solve the two greatest challenges facing us today, the environment and unemployment, with one solution known as the green collar revolution. He’s not the lone voice that supports this idea either.

For those of you less familiar with all this terminology, the green collar economy refers to the creation of jobs that solve both socioeconomic inequality and environmental problems. Green jobs offer the opportunity to create thousands of low- to medium-skill jobs for the unemployed and under-skilled that help solve a number of environmental problems. For example, insulating old homes and buildings to conserve energy, installing renewable energy sources, waste management programs, urban gardening projects, etc. These are all local jobs that can't be exported, and that can provide real opportunities for the worst off groups (such as urban youth) to acquire skills, professional experience, and to become a part of the community again. Hearing Van Jones speak on this simple and powerful idea ignited a desire to figure out how this could work on a national, and international, scale – and whether it would indeed be successful. It was to my delight that I ended up working with a social enterprise heavily involved in the green economy just two summers later.

A Green Jobs Field Trip

A few weeks ago a group of us from New Foundry Ventures (previously known as Rubicon National Social Innovations), arrived in the City of Richmond for a field trip to see this green collar economy in action.

The US government has already invested approximately $625 million in green jobs training. One of the many programs that has benefited from this funding is that of RichmondBUILD, the site that we were visiting that day. The RichmondBUILD Pre-apprenticeship Construction Skills and Green Jobs Training Academy was developed to create employment and career opportunities in construction for Richmond residents aged 17-35 who face barriers to employment. RichmondBUILD has crafted its free training programs to meet the particular job training and support needs of Richmond residents, 40% of whom live in public housing and 30-40% of whom have a history with the criminal justice system.

The Green Energy Training Services (GETS) workforce development program is an optional energy efficiency training module that participants of RichmondBUILD can apply to participate in. Some of the participants of the GETS workforce program will go on to work for GETS Energy Services (the Energy Efficiency Enterprise that NFV and Rising Sun have launched), and some will go on to work for other energy efficiency retrofit companies. This is a perfect example of an industry helping to create “green jobs” in an urban community that needs them badly. The GETS program provides a particularly supportive training atmosphere for those who are perhaps seeking their first stable job to escape the traps of inner-city life or trying to get back into employment after long periods of economic stagnancy.

While at the RichmondBUILD site, we were able to sit-in on one of the energy efficiency training classes (most of which was far beyond my comprehension!), a large class of about 30 students from a variety of backgrounds. We also walked around the “mock house” which has been built in their warehouse where the green jobs trainees are able to gain experience and practice their newfound skills. Our tour of the site was conducted by Ramon, a graduate of the Green Energy Training Services Program. Ramon was clearly a wonderful mentor for the current students, and a perfect example of someone from the Richmond community who had clearly benefited from the training program. Having come from a rough background himself, he explained to us the impact such a training program and stable employment can have on an urban youth who needs guidance and a path to avoid getting involved in drugs, violence, and crime. What struck me most was Ramon’s awareness of the larger environmental movement he was a part of. He spoke of the importance of energy efficiency, and how exciting it was to know that he was involved in the process of reducing CO2 emissions in the residential sector. The visit re-instilled the sense of excitement I’d felt for the green jobs movement when I’d heard Van Jones speak, and I returned to my desk at the office reminded of the importance of the work I was doing.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Our Sweet Home Hub SoMa: A Haven for Social Innovators

By Ashima Sukhdev, Summer Associate and Junior at University of Pennsylvania

Rubicon National. SOCAP. Reach Global. Adaptive Edge. SustainAbility. Acumen Fund. Kiva. Triple Pundit. Mercy Corps. Feel Good. Change.org . Singularity Institute. Benetech. Numi Tea. Equal Exchange. Good Capital. Architecture for Humanity. Terrapass. Investors Circle. B Lab. Green Chamber. Alter Eco. Better World Telecom.

Sound like a list of some of the nation’s most exciting green ventures, social enterprises, and development organizations?

That list is just my average day at work.

One of the many fascinating aspects of my summer here in San Francisco has been the office space where New Foundry Ventures is located. New Foundry Ventures' office can be found in a small nook in The Hub: Bay Area – a collaborative workspace located in the SoMa district of San Francisco. The above mentioned are some of the many organizations that we share the space with on any given day.

Aptly labeled “where change goes to work,” the Hub seeks to bring together and engage social enterprises, socially-minded organizations and individuals who dabble in similar ventures. The Hub’s network extends across 5 countries and 24 cities, with work spaces such as the one I spend my week in located all over the world. Members can either choose to have a private office (such as the one New Foundry Ventures occupies) or general membership to the common area.

When my mentor emailed us with the details of the new workspace that they would be moving into, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The idea seemed riveting, but what did this place look like? What did it feel like to work somewhere like this? Examining the floor map from various angles and scouring the website provided no preparation for the first day.

Firstly, everything is on wheels. Furniture exists to encourage the synergy of the place. You can write on walls in the meeting rooms. The d├ęcor is expectedly on the natural, woody side; my favorite is the conference table that is essentially a tree trunk with a piece of glass on top. There’s a “nest” (literally – you have to climb up a ladder to get to it) with bean bags, cushions and blankets for impromptu meetings and brainstorming sessions. Free flowing fair trade (obviously) coffee and tea are available to re-energize the weary entrepreneurial mind. As a visitor very insightfully exclaimed as she walked into the space – “Is this a library for adults!?”.

And it seems like it. Except this library is filled to the brim with global thought leaders, with a common aim to change the world. While the Hub is still experiencing a few growing pains (Hub SoMa can still be considered a toddler in comparison to the rest, at only 12 weeks), this place holds promise. The extent of the collaboration in the first few weeks was basic: what item should each of us bring to contribute to the group’s “Sexy Salad” Thursday lunches. Now, however, as members are beginning to get familiar with each other, the real synergies coming out of this space are obvious. Members reach out to each other for help both formally and informally: from legal services to logo advice. They learn about new opportunities through each other, and continue to broaden their networks. At night, the Hub transforms into a host space for events, and members (myself included) are beginning to experience the benefits of being able to attend events such as “Social Enterprise from Scratch”, “The Kiva Social” and the “Unreasonable Institute’s West Coast Pitch Fest” without really stepping away from their desks.

A seasoned “Hubber” now, I do wonder what it’ll be like having to adjust back to cubicles, white walls and an office full of people working for the same organization as me. In the mean time, the Hub Bay Area makes my 9 to 5 just that bit more exhilarating.

See the Fast Company photo (above) and read their feature article on Hub Soma.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rubicon Bakery Tour: Good Mission, Good Eats

By Mark Ding, Summer Associate and University of Pennsylvania sophomore

Two weeks ago, the New Foundry Ventures intern team got a chance to visit Rubicon Bakery in Richmond, California. The bakery is one of the very first projects Rubicon Programs started, and it has become a very successful company that serves the hardest-to-employ residents and trains these locals for future success in related careers.


Kari Ness Riedel, director of New Foundry Ventures, was formerly the general manager at the bakery, and she became our tour guide, giving us a brief history of the bakery’s growth and mission. In a nutshell, the bakery’s goal is twofold: to provide entry-level jobs for the local community and to prepare employees for a long-term career in the food industry through its job training program. Well, maybe it is threefold; a third goal is to bake delicious pastries. We soon took off to see the bakery in action. Although it was a slow day, there were people mixing the batter, baking cookies, decorating with icing, packing, storing, and delivering carrot cookie sandwiches.

After the tour, we got to sit down and chat with the new president and owner, Andrew Stoloff to discuss many of hardships social businesses that target underdeveloped communities face. Originally, the bakery was a nonprofit program focused solely on job creation in a low-income neighborhood. However, as the bakery grew successful, it was transformed into a social enterprise to achieve a greater scale. Andrew told us about many of the challenges of running the bakery.

Besides your typical business operations challenges, social enterprises face some unique issues:

Human Resources

o How do you motivate employees that have never held a job before?

o What if your employees don’t understand their performance is linked to the performance of the company?

Marketing

o How do you position your brand to communicate that it offers high quality products while achieving a social mission?

o How do you capitalize on the halo effect of running a social enterprise?

Strategy and Finance

o Where can you find affordable sources of financing that support your double bottom line goals?

o How do you manage relationships with corporate partners with socially-minded goals,
but only one bottom line?

We soon had to part ways, but not before tasting a few of the bakery’s treats. The bakery proved to be an amazing opportunity to see asocial enterprise in action and explore the options for future scalability. It is certainly not an easy task to establish a social enterprise, and it is no easier to maintain it even after the company is up and running. Nonetheless, Andrew Stoloff and Rubicon Programs did an amazing job of creating a successful company that serves the local community and provides inspiration for future social enterprises.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why Starting Social Businesses (not Job Training Programs) is Essential to Moving People out of Poverty

By Rick Aubry, CEO and Founder

One of the few ideas that won’t start a fight between Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals is the social bromide to fight poverty: “We need jobs, jobs, jobs….”

But what about job training, or its current euphemism “workforce services?” The logic itself seems straightforward—people who have been chronically underemployed need skills to enter the workforce and people who have been recently laid off need new skills to prepare for a new job. Emerging industries also need newly-trained people that have the skills demanded by the industry. The government’s job is to pay for the retraining of people in the interest of both industry and people’s need for work. Job training, however, does sometimes create some political discussions about the role of government, such as who should operate the job training, the question of “entitlement” to such training, etc. Nevertheless, job training is still a point of general agreement amongst various factions; remember that the major U.S. training programs of the 80’s were co-authored by Ted Kennedy and Dan Quayle.

But what does job training mean when there are no jobs? Hard to remember, but just a few years back we had unemployment rates below 5% and were reaching what economists call full employment status. Jobs were left unfilled, employers were eager to hire, workers had choices, and job training programs had seemingly huge successes, at least as measured by the “placement counts,” that is how many people walked in for training services and left to go to a job. The fact that people were working obscured the question about how much it cost for the process in the middle (the job training) and whether there were any actual effects from the training and the placement, as opposed to the fact that there was a huge industry need for any worker.

It’s a new world order for workers now. Unemployment is disastrously high, hovering officially around 10%. Further, discouraged workers, part-time workers, and others who have given up trying to find work but still want a full-time job have the “real” unemployed rate around 17% in the country, according to the U.S Department of Labor.

A powerful investigative report in the New York Times, part of their ongoing series “The New Poor,” raises significant questions about the whole field of job training in the United States:

“It’s such an ugly situation that job training can’t solve it,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a job training expert at the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research institution in Washington, and a former commissioner of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. “When you have five people unemployed for every vacancy, you can train all the people you want and unfortunately only one-fifth of the people will get hired. Training doesn’t create jobs.”

In such a climate, we need to re-think dramatically how we are going to help people move out of poverty, and the relative role of job training vs. job creation as an effective tool for achieving that goal.

“A lot of the training programs that we have in this country were designed for a kind of quick turnaround economy, as opposed to the entrenched structural challenges of today,” said Carl E. Van Horn, a labor economist and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. “It’s like attacking a mountain with a toothpick. You take a policy that was designed for the best economy that we had since World War II and you lay it up against the economy that is the worst since World War II. It can’t work.”

At New Foundry, our work has focused on the power of social businesses to create positive changes for low-income communities. In some cases this means access to goods and services at a fairer price than currently exists in urban communities. For example, our alternative to payday lending business, Emerge, provides non-exploitative emergency loans to workers while helping build long-term credit and establish savings plans. At scale, the business will serve hundreds of thousands and can change the equilibrium in the payday industry, which is currently gauging working folks and part of causing what Gary Rivlin has called “Poverty, Inc.” Another example is our newest exploration in developing a business to provide access to healthier food to address the “food desert” challenge in many urban communities.

Most frequently, our social businesses are designed to create actual jobs for folks not getting hired in the current environment. Our energy efficiency enterprise provides hard-to-employ workers who complete the Rising Sun Green Energy jobs training program transitional employment to perform residential energy efficiency retrofits. This fills the employment gap between completing the time-intensive training program and finding a full-time job and also allows the trainees to get real work experience using their new skills. Too many green job training programs are proving to be a dead end, so we are trying to create the social market for successful businesses that will create the jobs for all these trainees.

What is the new answer to unemployment? We believe that true unemployment will remain painfully high in the U.S. for a long time, particularly for the communities we serve. The best way we can have an impact is to focus on finding and starting businesses that go right to the source of the problem and address it head on by creating jobs in places where there are too few, and for people who are too often the first fired and the last hired. While New Foundry Ventures is sometimes mistakenly lumped in with job training and workforce programs, we have deliberately focused on the primary goal of job creation. Yes, many folks who come to us will be receiving training on the job. Yes, many people who come to us will move on to other employers, and we thus have some similar role in helping create a more effective workforce for the general economy.

Further, there are some great job training programs across the country we partner with who can help our entry level workers succeed and play a crucial role in the success of our strategy. Here, perhaps is the sweet spot for job training programs—helping new businesses find, train and sustain workers for a new enterprise.

Our primary role is starting businesses that create real jobs that can scale nationally and increase the net number of real jobs that exist because the businesses and workers provide a value to customers for which they are willing to pay. The current job training paradigm is about getting workers ready for an insatiable industry need for workers. The way forward is to help underemployed and disenfranchised communities create the new social businesses that have an intrinsic need for people from those communities to work and make those businesses thrive.

Follow Rick on Twitter @raubry.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Setting the Record Straight on Energy Efficiency

By Jade Rex, Project Manager

Most of the time when I talk to people about energy efficiency, they start talking about solar and how expensive it is. I think this is a common association to make since media ubiquitously refers to the two in the same breath. Just to set the record straight, energy efficiency and solar (renewable energy) are not cut from the same cloth. I like to think of them as more distant cousins than siblings.


Energy efficiency or ‘EE’ is the practice of making your existing energy source work more efficiently for you. For example, using a CFL light bulb in place of an incandescent light bulb provides the same amount of light, while consuming less energy to do so. Renewable energy, such as solar, is about generating energy from natural and renewable sources, including sunlight, wind, rain, tide, and geothermal. The fundamental difference between the two is that energy efficiency is about how you use energy, while renewables are about how you generate energy.

Now that we’ve established that EE isn’t solar, nor is it trying to achieve the same goals as solar let’s discuss why EE is important and something you should care about. The EPA defines energy efficiency as “products or systems using less energy to do the same or better job than conventional products or systems.” In other words, EE is about using your existing energy sources more thoughtfully. Making your home more energy efficient has huge implications for your comfort, health, and wallet. With approximately 87 million of the 130 million U.S. homes built before the advent of the modern-day energy code, this means that most homes in the U.S. use energy very inefficiently and cause their owners to needlessly waste tons of money. For example, leaky ducts usually waste between 10 and 30 percent of the heating or cooling energy a homeowner purchases.

So what’s the first and most significant step you can take if you are interested in saving money, making your home more healthy and comfortable, and decreasing your home’s green house gas impact? Invest in a whole home performance test—the best and most thorough way to identify the exact fixes your home requires to improve its efficiency. An energy-efficient retrofit typically includes sealing holes, gaps, and spaces where air leaks out; adding insulation to attics, crawlspaces, floors, and walls; replacing energy inefficient appliances; upgrading doors and windows; and replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs, in addition to other measures.

Check out the Department of Energy video below to see what a whole home performance looks like.




Compared to solar, installing energy efficiency measures is an easy and less expensive way to significantly reduce your energy usage and impact on the environment. Once you make your home energy efficient, you’ll be able to make your renewable energy investment go a lot further.

P.S. To stay current on energy efficiency news follow me on Twitter @jade_rex.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fighting Food Deserts with Social Enterprise

by Kari Ness Riedel, Director

One of the enterprises we are exploring at New Foundry Ventures is a social business that provides greater access to healthy foods while also creating jobs for those with barriers to employment. Many urban and rural areas are considered to be “food deserts”–that is, areas where residents have little or no access to healthy foods but have plenty of access to fast food and less healthy options. It may be hard to believe that food deserts exist when some neighborhoods boast a Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Super Target all within a one mile radius. But, in many communities, fast food outlets and local bodegas that primarily sell liquor, cigarettes and canned food are the only convenient, affordable places to get food. Take a look at his map to see food deserts around the country.

We’ve all seen the stats on the alarming rate of obesity in our country–27 percent of adults and 19 percent of kids in the U.S. are obese, and these figures are worse for communities of color and low-income communities. Studies have shown direct links between food deserts and obesity and obesity-related diseases such as Type II diabetes. We need to improve food access and promote healthy eating to reverse these disturbing health trends. Remember all the work that went into fighting the “digital divide” from the early 90s? We need to engage in a similar fight to remove this “healthy eating divide” that is plaguing our communities today.

OK, enough doom and gloom, here’s the positive news…there’s already some amazing work being done across the U.S. to address these issues. Most efforts to improve food access are focused in three areas:

1. Get mainstream grocery stores into food deserts
2. Make bodegas, or corner stores, healthier
3. Provide alternative places to buy fresh, healthy food like farmer’s markets, produce markets, and mobile markets.

A great model for all three of these efforts is The Food Trust based in Philadelphia. Their work to bring affordable, nutritious food to all is starting to be replicated around the nation.
But access alone is not sufficient; behavior change is needed to shift how people shop, cook, and eat. There’s also some great work being done on this front through community cooking classes, nutrition education, backyard gardening lessons by organizations, such as Operation Frontline based in Washington D.C. and their local chapters throughout the U.S.

And, of course, it’s fantastic to see First Lady Michelle Obama bringing attention and energy to these issues through her Let’s Move campaign, along with the celebrity power provided by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

At New Foundry Ventures, we see a great opportunity for a social business that fights food deserts. We are currently doing due diligence on scalable, sustainable business concepts that would increase access to healthy foods in low-income communities; encourage families to shop, cook, and eat healthier meals; and create new jobs. We’ll be posting our findings over the coming weeks…so stay tuned! If you have ideas for fighting food deserts that you want to share with us or would like to learn more about our work in this area, please contact kari@newfoundryventures.org. Follow me on Twitter at nesskari.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rubicon National is now New Foundry Ventures


By Rick Aubry, CEO and Founder

As many of you know, our work at Rubicon National grew from the work we began at Rubicon Programs nearly 25 years ago, starting and operating social businesses such as Rubicon Bakery and Rubicon Landscape Services. In 2007, we realized that as important as our work had been to date, we needed to find dramatic new ways to significantly increase the impact of our work. While we had created jobs in our businesses for hundreds of people, we needed to develop businesses that created jobs for tens of thousands of people. While our services positively affected 4,000 people a year at Rubicon, we needed to develop new models that would serve hundreds of thousands of people in order for our efforts to change the inequity challenge in our country.

To achieve these audacious goals we came to the conclusion that it was essential that a new generation of nationally-scaled social enterprises be created. We initially incubated this theory as part of Rubicon Programs. To increase the likelihood of our success and to focus on our ability to build significantly larger national impact, we created and spun off Rubicon National as a separate nonprofit in 2009 to focus on our mission of building the next generation of scalable social enterprises. While we are extremely proud of the work we achieved as Rubicon Programs, we want to make sure the work we are doing today is clear as national in vision and scope and distinct from the activities focused primarily on one local region. A board member of Rubicon Programs once said to me, “National reputation, local player, what’s wrong with this picture?” We believe our new identity as New Foundry Ventures will allow us to build on our national reputation and focus on national issues.

Our reputation as action-focused, “doers” is baked into our organization’s DNA, so we loved the image of a foundry that gets things done. The work of our foundry is to build new ventures – in collaboration with others and through ventures we incubate and grow. We are market-fixers that identify opportunities where traditional markets don’t exist or are failing. By building social businesses that provide good financial credit, greater access to healthy food, and energy efficiency for low-income communities—while also creating jobs for those in need—we create lasting, sustainable and systemic solutions to some of the most important challenges facing disenfranchised communities in the U.S. Learn more about the work we are doing today across Financial Services, Energy Efficiency, and Community Food Access, as well as our Advisory Services.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rubicon National Wins Social Impact Exchange Business Plan Competition


By Rick Aubry, CEO and Founder

Greg Dees, Ed Skloot and their colleagues from Duke University as well as the folks at the Growth Philanthropy Network pulled together an impressive group of conference attendees to focus on the question of how philanthropy can scale the impact of social innovation at the Social Impact Exchange’s Inaugural Conference on Scaling. Over 450 people gathered in NYC June 17-18 to look at the challenges involved in moving to scaled solutions and look at examples of some of the best solutions available for creating this scaled change. Philanthropists, academics, practitioners and financiers spent two days hearing about the latest thinking on how to take big ideas and bring them to scale. Given Rubicon National’s mission to serve as a laboratory for scaling social impact, it was a timely conference for us to attend; and we also had a dog in the hunt at the conference.

The central part of the conference is a social business competition featuring leading new innovations ready to scale. One of Rubicon’s social businesses, Emerge, was competing in the early-stage growth category. Our venture was created as an alternative for working folks who have had no choices when they need small, short-term loans in emergencies than to go to the predatory lenders. Over 200 organizations submitted plans and 8 finalists were selected to present. Jonathan Harrison and I pitched our presentation on Emerge for 10 minutes on Friday afternoon and later that day we found out we won! In addition to $25,000 in cash, we also will receive six months of pro bono consultation from Public/Private Ventures to help us achieve the scaled impact we all are interested in. (See the press release we published on the win.)

So of course, we are jazzed and excited that we received such a prestigious recognition (and the cash could not have come at a better time for our start-up venture). We have spent nearly two years dealing with all the behind-the-scenes steps necessary to create a system-changing business—one that provides working folks access to fair credit, connections to financial services and asset building programs, and a pathway out of the debt traps that payday lenders and other predatory financial services help create. It’s satisfying to know we won because we created this solution within the construct of a market-based business that is designed to grow to scale and be sustainable. This is what Rubicon National set out to do from the beginning.

NPR Fresh Air Interview with Gary Rivlin Highlights Need for Payday Lending Alternative

NPR’s Fresh Air recently invited Gary Rivlin to share his research on predatory lending in the United States. Rivlin’s work is particularly pertinent at a time when Americans are strapped for cash and stretching their dollars, especially at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid. His work is not only pertinent to the current economic climate, but to the initiative that Rubicon National Social Innovations is launching through our new social business, Emerge.

Payday lending accentuates the problems people who live paycheck to paycheck face, putting them at odds with making ends meet as roll-overs lead them to face nearly 400%+ APR while paying back their advance. Rivlin makes it clear that the same payday lenders that many might see as exploiting the poor working class see themselves as nobly extending services that would otherwise not be available to a large population of people. At the same time, he tells a very clear story of how the flight of traditional banks combined with the much-higher-than-average profit margins to be made by serving the working poor lead to the abundance of payday lenders in poor, urban areas.

Our alternative business model, Emerge, is positioned to fill the gap left by the imbalance in the marketplace. Seeking to systematically bring about a more equitable society through its employer-based credit offerings, Emerge aims to migrate the underbanked from predatory high-profit payday lenders toward mainstream financial services. -Josh Engel, Summer Associate

Listen to the full NPR interview with Gary Rivlin.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Welcome New Summer Associates

With summer, comes summer interns, and at Rubicon National Social Innovations we're excited to welcome our outstanding group of summer associates this month. We have a diverse group of MBAs and undergrads from top-notch schools, including Northwestern University, University of Pennsylvania, and Wake Forest University. To kickoff their time with us, and to thank many of the volunteers who have generously given their time this year moving our mission forward, we took everyone to AT&T ballpark to soak in a beautiful San Francisco day and watch the Giants beat the Orioles (6-3). Check out photos from our outing.

Lucky Sharma, Josh Engel, Jonathan Harrison, Bernard Geiger, Brendan Pierpont, Andrew Kintner, Melissa Foley, and Mark Ding

Jade Rex, Bernard Geiger, Brendan Pierpont, and Andrew Kintner

Lucky Sharma, Josh Engel, and Jonathan Harrison


Bernard Geiger, Brendan Pierpont, Andrew Kintner, Melissa Foley, Mark Ding, Ashima Sukhdev, Kathy Liu, and Sandie Taylor