First Step featured in Baltimore Sun

Social enterprises: when non-profits and for-profits collide!

Most days, you’ll find Richard Schroeder (left) working off his laptop at the Starbucks on Boston Street in Canton. He’s been busy setting up Sierra Leone’s first “special economic zone” over the past year or so — and he’s done a fair amount of the work by telecommuting from a coffee shop.

The nonprofit he works for — World Hope International — is based in Alexandria, Va., but Schroeder, who lives in Baltimore, mostly does his work out of the Starbucks and a nearby Panera Bread.

It was while telling me his story about his work life when I was struck not only by how he works internationally from a local Wi-Fi hotspot, but how the field he is in — international development — is evolving.

I found that his effort to set up the First Step special economic zone in Sierra Leone is part of a trend in non-profits exploring for-profit ventures to improve people’s lives — and to better sustain their ventures and relying less on donations.

Schroeder’s work became a launching point for me to explore this notion of “social enterprises,” which is a broad catch-all term for initiatives that show characteristics of non-profit and for-profit ventures. Here’s my story, which appeared in the Sunday paper.

The social enterprise: making a buck and doing good International, local projects blending nonprofit and profit models

By Gus G. Sentementes, The Baltimore Sun

World Hope International, a Christian relief and development nonprofit group, has been providing charitable aid and small loans to farmers and entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone for years.

Now the Northern Virginia group wants to go into business with those it aims to help. It has started a for-profit arm to build an industrial park and helped launch a juice plant that would process the West African country’s bounty of mangoes and pineapples.

World Hope’s effort is part of a recalibration of how some nonprofit organizations approach their work — applying the strategies of capitalism to achieve their goals. In Sierra Leone, which is still rebuilding after a civil war that ended more than a decade ago, World Hope wants to create good-paying jobs by attracting “ethical” investment. They say they can provide the moral compass, while foreign companies provide the startup capital.

“This is marking a huge transformation in the way nonprofits would do international economic development,” said Richard Schroeder, a Baltimorean and World Hope economist who has led the nonprofit’s effort in Sierra Leone. “We transform that humanitarian presence into a framework that will support ethical foreign direct investment.”

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