By Karen anderson
BALTIMORE – Malcolm Clark worked as a nurse support technician in the operating room of an area hospital when he first began using and selling drugs.
Released from jail in July, Clark, 41, was a recovering addict in need of a job.
He found it at Harbor City Services, a versatile Baltimore-based company that specializes in moving, storing and shredding, and doing it all with employees who are recovering addicts, the previously incarcerated and those with mental illnesses.
Achieving a social mission through a business strategy is known as social enterprise, and it’s catching on across the country, including in Maryland, where the concept is being studied to see if it merits expansion.
In Louisiana, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu created the Office of Social Entrepreneurship, the first of its kind, in 2006.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Landrieu saw a grass roots phenomenon of social organizations looking to make a difference.
“He wanted to capture this moment and say, how do we capture this over time,” said Nadiyah Morris Coleman, social entrepreneurship manager for Louisiana.
Now, Louisiana’s Office of Social Entrepreneurship helps social workers learn to run a business, which is often a fundamental obstacle.
It does so by helping them minimize the risk to current and potential investors by providing a clearer picture of how dollars will be applied to address a social concern. Additionally, it measures what outcome — socially and financially — will come of an organization’s efforts.
Louisiana’s office hosts the Social Innovators Institute, where 12 organizations participate in a six month business planning process, at the end of which each program is considered for grant funding.
Through business planning, the institute helps its participants identify the root cause of a social concern and how to address it in a way that shrinks risks and remains appealing to investors, a challenge for social enterprise organizations.
Adopted as a government agency, the office serves as a connection from social work to the industry’s biggest investor — government.
“Government is spending way more than foundations and individuals combined,” said Colleen Ebinger of Root Cause, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that helped write the business plan for Louisiana’s Office of Social Entrepreneurship. “It’s not so much about should government spend the money or not, because that’s already there. It’s about how can it spend that money more effectively.”
While many social enterprise organizations seek to be self-sufficient, not all are.
Some, such as schools and abuse shelters, don’t have the same opportunities to produce a profit. Still, even these groups can benefit by seeking strategies that maximize their resources and in turn, their ability to address fundamental social problems.
The creation of the Louisiana Office of Social Entrepreneurship showed that the state makes solving social problems a priority and helped legitimize organizations with a social mission.
“Government is able to provide them that credibility to say that their work is important,” Coleman said.
Harbor City addresses a piece of a larger problem in Baltimore.
Every year 12,500 people are released from correctional facilities into Maryland communities, and well over half have some issue with substance use, said Ernest Eley, deputy director of parole and probation in the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Searching for employment is especially difficult for those just out of jail.
“First and foremost, the fact that they have a criminal conviction is the impediment, some employers will see that as a bar just outright, they don’t want to take the risk, the chance,” said Eleanor McMullen, executive assistant to the director at the Division of Parole and Probation.
This was the case for Clark.
The hospital that previously employed him praised his past work, but said his drug use prevented them from rehiring him, Clark said.
“You may have had degrees and everything, but when you go out and start using and you come back into society, it’s like they don’t recognize you anymore,” Clark said. “Anything that you’ve accomplished prior to using, it just doesn’t count.”
Even harder is finding employment that will be supportive in the event of a relapse, as Harbor City is, for those who are mentally ill or recovering from substance abuse.
“The problem they’re experiencing is, treatment works, but now I can’t live my life, because of these other things that are unrelated to mental illness. They’re related to poverty,” said Harbor City CEO John Herron.
Still, having a job is an important part of recovery, said McMullen.
“It provides stability,” she said, about the importance of employment for those just out of jail. “It sort of reaffirms that they have made the transition from incarceration back into the community.”
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