Last May, we awarded grants to 13 amazing nonprofits running social enterprises. These social enterprises serve their missions by investing in strong, thriving communities.
For this three-part blog series, we’ve interviewed three of our social enterprise grantees. In Part 3, we’re excited to share this conversation with Sara Weihmann, the Director of Social Purpose Enterprise at New Avenues for Youth in Portland, Oregon
Who do you serve and why? And what are their challenges and dreams?
We serve young individuals (ages 16-24) either experiencing homelessness, or at risk of experiencing it. Our mission is to support youth in exiting street life by providing access to the resources and skills needed to thrive and live healthy, productive lives.
The youths’ individual hopes vary tremendously, with self-sufficiency as a common thread. Their individual challenges also differ greatly from person to person, and they can be especially challenging to overcome given past or current exposure to trauma, marginalization by society, and/or stigmatism around their physical, racial, or gender identity.
Beyond the job experience, how else do you assist youth, and what impact does this have?
In addition to paid work experiences in our portfolio of enterprises, each youth works closely with an Employment Specialist, who supports them with individualized short and long-term goal setting, navigating pathways to those goals, and identifying strategies and tools to overcome the barriers and challenges getting in the way.
New Avenues for Youth also has a team of education specialists, housing navigators, and addiction and mental health counselors available to folks. The greatest impact is that individual youth are being able to define what success looks like for them, and they can begin to take charge of their life and develop a support plan that best aligns with their unique goals.
What advice do you have for people who are running similar social enterprises, or are thinking about starting one?
The greatest challenge in operating a social enterprise is constantly balancing the social mission and financial goals. It’s also important to create an environment where young people thrive and are part of a healthy peer culture. It takes constant attention and thoughtfulness to help them build confidence and feel safe making the mistakes that will allow them to grow.
Additionally, operating a business with a small management team and a larger team of temporary staff, who are constantly being trained up and exited into more permanent jobs in the community, is challenging. We budget larger amounts for staffing, costs of goods, and general inefficiencies than most comparable businesses in our industry. In light of these challenges, my advice is to be realistic with revenue and expense expectations. Financial sustainability is a journey that should be planned for, but not assumed.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.