A social enterprise operates like a business, but manages its operations in pursuit of human or environmental wellbeing. Green Streets is a social enterprise with a mission to provide a business service, a social service and an environmental service: a triple bottom line.
McCormack Baron Management (formerly McCormack Baron Ragan), a property management company, was the original angel investor in Green Streets. MBM saw the opportunity to invest in their residents with start up seed funding and a modest annual commitment to Green Streets as they created a business that would ultimately save MBM money, increase public safety and increase resident stewardship.
In the beginning, Citizen Film created a short first year anniversary documentary for the burgeoning enterprise. The process of filming, reviewing the footage and sharing the stories with the workers and the community has become a powerful component of Green Streets’ impact. Today, Citizen Film continues to create documentaries while also providing small business mentorship and marketing support for Green Streets.
Through Urban Employment Initiatives (UEI), Urban Strategies functions as Green Streets’ Fiscal Sponsor and carries general liability insurance coverage. Urban also provides in-kind and subsidized back-office support including legal guidance, human resources, processing checks, accounting, program design and fundraising. Green Streets payroll, workman’s compensation and basic human resources infrastructure is handled by Coneybeare, a temporary staffing agency specializing in the green industry. This staffing option was essential to addressing the complications related to hiring people with serious criminal backgrounds, limited education and employment history within an industry that has little to no precedence. Currently, property management companies contract yearly with Green Streets through Urban Strategies (UEI in California) and Coneybeare processes the payroll.
San Francisco’s 2009 Zero Waste Initiative created financial incentives to compost and recycle in the form of reduced trash bills, but was unsuccessful in low-income neighborhoods. Since Green Streets was formed, recycling rates in these communities have increased from near 0 to almost 50%. The expertise Green Streets has gained is now helping to expand the enterprise to Oakland and Richmond, to help these cities meet their Zero Waste goals.
A similar social enterprise developed by Urban Strategies David Mauroff in the mid-1990s, responded to a San Francisco policy that required merchants to keep their sidewalks clean. Steam cleaning was the solution, and a business operated by gang-involved youth through City funding became a win-win for everyone. Merchants kept their sidewalks clean, public safety was enhanced, young people created new opportunities for themselves and their peers and San Francisco leadership was able to promote a business created through their investment.
As a workforce with criminal backgrounds and limited education and work experience living and working in distressed public housing communities, the Green Streets team needs consistent professional and personal support. A core part of any social enterprise serving this population should prioritize services addressing the physical, mental and social wellbeing of employees, as well as training to develop vocational and business skills.
Green Streets is heading into its fifth year, and 2015 is already shaping up to be a promising year of financial growth. Currently, Green Streets has five contracts with two different property management companies and multiple foundation grants for education and outreach to the residents of the housing they serve. The enterprise employs 22 people at above minimum wage 20-40 hours per week. Though there are additional support services and overhead costs that exceed the current revenue, operations and some training and overhead are fully covered.