Margin and mission : measuring success in employment social enterprise
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Employment social enterprises (ESEs) follow in the long tradition of workforce interventions. ESEs are a subset of social enterprises – organizations that both generate revenue and address a social mission. Employment social enterprises’ missions explicitly include the creation of transitional jobs for those with high barriers to employment, including criminal justice system involvement, refugee status, veteran status, homelessness and mental health challenges. For social enterprises, one of the key management challenges is navigating the tension between “margin” and “mission;” between growing the business and serving the mission. This study examines how ESEs measure and report success against this tension. A mixed methods approach combining coding of publicly available reports from ESEs with ESE leader interviews was used. All of the ESEs were found to be non-profit organizations. Overall, only half of the organizations reported measures of success. Those that did tended to report metrics aligned with workforce development agencies – program completion, job attainment and retention. Of the ESE leaders interviewed, all confirmed that the tension between margin and mission is at the heart of their work. Interestingly, though, not all managed it the same way: one said mission trumps margin, another said margin trumps mission and the rest let the situation at hand guide the prioritization. Analysis of the resulting information uncovered that ESEs work within an ecosystem made up of funders, public sector partners, hiring partners and customers. The report concludes with recommendations for all these players, as well as ESEs themselves.