This week I returned from my alma matter where I spent several days supporting the development of a green economy in Northfield, Minnesota. Like many cities along the Mississippi River and its channels, Northfield is concerned with water management and becoming more resilient to sudden flooding and other environmental challenges. This opportunity allows LifeCity to share the lessons learned in New Orleans concerning the development of social enterprises, the formation of green business networks, and public-private partnerships that build stronger communities.
I first gave a public talk to local community members, city council leaders, and students and faculty from local universities. For other communities around the country, the concept of a “social enterprise” is still new, unlike New Orleans where the term has been popularized thanks to organizations like Propeller, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Tulane University, Goodwork Network, and many more.
We discussed not only the shifting dynamics of organizational structures, where traditional for-profit companies are becoming more concerned with achieving social benefit, but also that traditional non-profits are becoming more interested in earned income strategies. A key message to students was that they do not have to choose between getting a high-paying job and working at a high-impact community organization, but that blurring boundaries between non-profit and for-profit sectors in fact allow students to do both.
LifeCity created a Spectrum of Impact Integration of organizations to explain the different ways companies can integrate social, environmental, and economic impact. Instead of thinking about business development using the “triple bottom line” that suggests that each kind of impact is separate, this chart helps demonstrate that they are all integrated (supporting the term “integrated bottom line” coined by Hunter Lovins, author of Natural Capitalism).
In addition to discussing organizational shifts within companies and nonprofits, we also discussed community-wide shifts in economic development. In order to create more sustainable and resilient communities, we must create new partnerships and new strategies to solve our communities’ greatest challenges in economically viable ways.
I was honored to return to my alma matter where I became passionate about sustainable economic development, and give back to the community that gave me so much. Our hope is that one day our software platform will accelerate the impact economy in communities like Northfield around the country.