Entrepreneurship

Who Are the Next 25 Social Enterprise Stars? We’re Still Looking to Meet Them

November 12, 2014

RSF_SocentStarsLOGO-300dpi (2)Our campaign to add 25 social enterprise stars to our loan portfolio over the next year is introducing RSF to hundreds of social enterprises striving for outsized impact—about 1,600 enterprises and referrers had checked out our campaign page by the end of October.

Why is this important? Most growing businesses face challenges raising capital at some stage in their development. But for social enterprises, which use the power of business to directly improve society and our environment, the funding obstacles tend to be tougher and more persistent. By definition, they upend the expectations of traditional investors, lenders, and donors. RSF provides the kind of flexible, mission-aligned capital that meets social enterprises’ needs—but they’re often operating in isolation and don’t know we exist.

So please keep spreading the word! The more #SocentStars posts there are on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the more social enterprises we can reach and assist. Here are a few post ideas:

Are you one of the next economy’s #SocentStars? @RSFSocFinance can fund your growth: bit.ly/1tH0ytE #socents

Every #socent needs a savvy funder. @RSFSocFinance has loan money for the next 25 #SocentStars: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Do you know any #SocentStars? @RSFSocFinance has loans for the next 25. Send them here: bit.ly/1tH0ytE #socent

Not sure who would be a good fit? We’re looking for more enterprises like these new RSF borrowers (also see details on the Social Enterprise Stars campaign page).

Liberty Source staff young woman stockLiberty Source

Liberty Source, a public benefit corporation and subsidiary of existing RSF borrower Digital Divide Data (DDD), employs military spouses in U.S.-based business process outsourcing work. Although founded just this summer, Liberty Source already employs over 90 people at Fort Monroe in Virginia. The more than 700,000 military spouses in the U.S. have a higher rate of post–high school education—80 percent—than the general population, but are four times as likely to be unemployed or underemployed because of frequent moves and the limited number of job opportunities near military bases.

“Without support from RSF, we would not have been able to get Liberty Source off the ground,” said Deborah Kops, Board Chair, Liberty Source and Board Member, DDD. “The RSF loan provided us the seed money to hire staff and buy equipment. Only a mission-aligned lender understands both the social impact and the imperative to operate a commercially viable company.”

Stefan Hartman - SK- Black River Organic FarmEastern Carolina Organics

Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO) is a farmer- and employee-owned food hub distributing fresh, seasonal, organic produce to retailers, institutions, distributors, and restaurants across North Carolina. RSF provided a line of credit through our PRI Fund to help ECO bridge the time between payments to farmers and sales receipts from customers.

“Food hubs like ECO have the ability to connect producers with growing market demand, which holds incredible promise for positive impact on the local economy, social equity, and the environment,” says Kate Danaher, RSF Senior Lending Associate.

Know any loan candidates like these? Please send them to Wanted: Social Enterprise Stars.

Search for Social Enterprise Stars Off to Great Start

October 14, 2014

PrintOur Next 25 Social Enterprise Stars campaign is off to a great start—less than a month after our launch at the SOCAP14 conference, nearly 1,000 social enterprises and their referrers had visited our campaign page to check out borrower criteria and other details.

To recap, we’re looking to add 25 social enterprise stars to our loan portfolio over the next year—and we need the help of everyone in our community to find them. We know there are exciting enterprises across the U.S. and Canada that could grow with our help, but they may not know about us—and we may not know about them.

Please keep spreading the word! The more #SocentStars posts there are on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the more social enterprises we can reach and assist. Here are a few post ideas:

How much social impact could your #socent have with $800K? @RSFSocFinance has loans for #SocentStars: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Pass it on: @RSFSocFinance is looking to fund the next 25 #SocentStars. Get details and #loan quals: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Growing a #socent & need capital? @RSFSocFinance has loans for the next 25 #SocentStars: bit.ly/1tH0ytE

Not sure who would be a good fit? We’re looking for more enterprises like these new RSF borrowers (also see details on the Social Enterprise Stars campaign page).

facebookPACT Apparel

PACT, a Boulder, Colorado–based apparel company, makes supersoft organic cotton essentials that are ethically produced and easy on the environment. Here’s what they say about themselves: “We’re out to change the apparel industry and that change starts with your underwear. At PACT we care about our clothes so much that from seed to shelf, we pretty much follow them everywhere they go.”

RSF is providing a line of credit that allows PACT to build inventory to meet growing demand. It’s a natural fit: “PACT is more than just a sustainable brand,” says Mike Gabriel, RSF Lending Manager. “They are really fostering a community—suppliers, producers, intermediaries, and consumers—to accelerate change in the fashion industry.”

truckHummingbird Wholesale

Hummingbird Wholesale, a bulk food distributor based in Eugene, Oregon, delivers high-quality organic, local, and regional food crops to wholesale customers from Bellingham, Washington, to San Francisco. RSF financing allowed Hummingbird to purchase an environmentally friendly freight truck.

“Hummingbird exemplifies the type of organizations we look to support at RSF. It tries to make a positive impact in every aspect of its work—from ensuring local farmers are connected to markets to employing a zero-waste strategy,” says Kate Danaher, Senior Lending Associate at RSF.

Cocafa1Madécasse

Brooklyn-based Madécasse is the only company making high-quality, hand-wrapped chocolate and vanilla products in Africa from bean to bar. Unlike traditional chocolate manufacturing, which creates only minimal income for cocoa farmers, every process in Madécasse’s chocolate production happens in Madagascar. A line of credit from RSF allows Madécasse to finance inventory purchases and cover cash-flow gaps throughout the year.

“Companies like Madécasse take the concept of fair trade to another level,” says Danaher. “By turning raw materials into finished products in-country, they provide skilled jobs and economic opportunities to people who have few options.”

Know any loan candidates like these? Please send them to Wanted: Social Enterprise Stars.

Clients in Conversation: Protecting our Planet, One “A-ha” Moment at a Time – Part II

September 23, 2014

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Interview with Mike Gabriel, Lending Manager

Tim Brownell is the co-founder of Eureka Recycling, an RSF borrower and one of the largest non-profit recyclers in the US. Ben Gordon, an RSF investor, works with Global Student Embassy to empower youth to become environmental stewards and community leaders. In both cases, social transformation is at the core of the environmental change they seek.

Click here for Part I

Mike: Tim, Eureka is a successful non-profit in a field that’s dominated by one or two large players. Can you give us some idea of how difficult it is to fight the good fight in this situation?

Tim: It’s important to understand that we are not competing against any of the large waste businesses. We’re actually competing against a paradigm of wasting. I think that’s the challenge for us, that we are bringing forward the idea and the reality that waste is a choice.

We run our non-profit as a mission-driven financial organization. We are driving strategies that have to work and compete against a different economic structure, one in which waste is subsidized, one in which health and environmental costs are externalized.

We are within a paradigm that requires making money in order to run a business. We’re a non-profit but we’re also a social venture, and we participate in this business with no subsidies. That’s very intentional. We don’t take grants that anybody else could take. We borrow money at market rates, so that we can demonstrate that zero waste is an economically viable alternative, not just an environmental and social imperative.

Ben: I used to work in community development banking. One of the most important lessons I learned during that time was that budgeting is about more than financials, and that is especially true for mission-driven organizations. The decisions being made in a mission-driven organization are to allow for greater positive outcomes for people and planet.

This economic structure, Tim mentions, requires a change in financial perspective—a new focus on lowering costs of all types, rather than increasing revenue. In our current economic paradigm, a lot of revenue that we look at requires consumption. We really need to constantly question how to do things differently with less financial revenue, but with greater environmental and social outcomes.

Mike: If there’s one thing that speaks most directly to the impact that you’re having, what would it be?

Tim: I grew up in a time when no one spoke about “zero waste,” and recycling was a small idea. Today, recycling is common, and people have an understanding of its benefit. We exist to expand awareness and consciousness so that the next generation feels the same way about zero waste.

Eureka is a zero waste lab—we are learning how to get to zero. We’re determined and committed because we know how urgent it is to get there, and it requires transforming our relationship with our planet. Our work as a social enterprise is focused on demonstrating the steps, actions, economics, and policies necessary to get there, and our vision is to see this movement as a global transformation.

Ben: We call all of our projects “demonstrations” because the most critical part of what we do is getting people involved.

Our small staff, board, and friends can lead a demonstration to set up a school garden in a semi-rural or urban area pretty quickly. But when we think about broad impact that doesn’t really achieve the larger change we’re going for. Sure, we have this small garden, but alone it’s not going to put a dent in our food system. The real value is in having a demonstration that is created by a large number of hands. So that those hands will be inspired and find another site to do it on—to continue the transformation one person at a time.

Tim Brownell is CEO of Eureka Recycling, the only organization in Minnesota that specializes in zero-waste. He was one of the original founders of Eureka, coming to Minnesota in 2000 to assist in its development. Prior to his joining, Mr. Brownell worked for more than ten years in the recycling field in designing, developing and operating the residential recycling programs in San Francisco, CA and Ann Arbor, MI.

Ben Gordon serves a Board Member and volunteer with Global Student Embassy, an environmental and youth empowerment non-profit. Prior to GSE, he worked in community development banking at Charles Schwab Bank and Merrill Lynch. He currently works in Oakland, CA, Chacraseca, Nicaragua, and Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. Ben graduated with a Bachelors of Arts from Brown University in 2006.

Clients in Conversation: Protecting our Planet, One “A-ha” Moment at a Time – Part I

September 17, 2014

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Interview with Mike Gabriel, Lending Manager

Tim Brownell is the co-founder of Eureka Recycling, an RSF borrower and one of the largest non-profit recyclers in the US. Ben Gordon, an RSF investor, works with Global Student Embassy to empower youth to become environmental stewards and community leaders. In both cases, social transformation is at the core of the environmental change they seek.

Mike: What role does community engagement play in achieving your organization’s mission?

Tim: Eureka’s mission is to demonstrate that waste is completely preventable. We do that through engaging the community and involving people in the planning and the design of our initiatives and our programs. Community engagement is at the core of what we do to create a movement towards zero waste.

For example, we have a commercial composting program working with restaurants, businesses, and farmers’ markets. We work with everyone within the business, from the point of purchase all the way through the discard, to engage with them to gain a full understanding of what it takes to achieve zero waste.

Ben: I like how you’re talking about community engagement being so core to your organization. That’s much the same as what we do at Global Student Embassy. With any organization focused on environmental outcomes, social change is critical to the environmental change that we want to see. We’re all a part of building larger movements and empowering people to see that the actions and the things that they do make a difference. In our case, those people are the students. They are very much a part of their community and they are great to engage with because they are naturally in a learning mode and they have a lot of time and energy for ecology work.

Mike: How have the individuals and communities you’re engaging with been affected by your work?

Ben: We’ve had three to four years of working with high schools. And, over the last two years we’ve developed relationships with twelve universities. Most of those relationships were initiated by students who wanted to continue the work that they had done in the Ecology Action Club in high school in their new university setting. And beyond that, now these university students are starting to plan for student-run environmental programs in local middle schools and high schools. Each student helps the movement grow.

Tim: One of the things we do is zero waste events that hundreds to several thousand people attend. In many cases people walking into that space have never really thought about their discards beyond trash and recycling. At the events we make sure vendors are committed to offering products that are either reusable, recyclable, or compostable. When attendees are getting ready to dispose of an item, in many cases they are holding a product in their hand that historically has been something that they have thrown away. We have people working at the disposal station who try to create a conversation around this, to transform their relationship to that product.

At every single event we do, we see people have a very distinct “a-ha” moment, when they see that there’s something else that can actually happen. Waste is not inevitable, it’s a choice, it’s a design issue, and it’s something they can impact within their lives and spheres of influence.

Ben: These “a-ha” moments help people realize that there’s a lot of small actions we can all take to make a real difference. Our job is to provide opportunities for people to have these transformative experiences, whether it happens on an afternoon in Minneapolis or anywhere in the world.

Click here for Part II

Tim Brownell is CEO of Eureka Recycling, the only organization in Minnesota that specializes in zero-waste. He was one of the original founders of Eureka, coming to Minnesota in 2000 to assist in its development. Prior to his joining, Mr. Brownell worked for more than ten years in the recycling field in designing, developing and operating the residential recycling programs in San Francisco, CA and Ann Arbor, MI.

Ben Gordon serves a Board Member and volunteer with Global Student Embassy, an environmental and youth empowerment non-profit. Prior to GSE, he worked in community development banking at Charles Schwab Bank and Merrill Lynch. He currently works in Oakland, CA, Chacraseca, Nicaragua, and Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. Ben graduated with a Bachelors of Arts from Brown University in 2006.

How Can We Fix Our Broken Food System? Start With the Base of the Supply Chain

August 7, 2014

Originally published on TriplePundit

Triple pundit food systemsby Don Shaffer

Social equity in the food supply chain was a strong thread running through the annual Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders forum this June in Denver. If we’re going to fix our broken food system so that it delivers healthy food to the whole population while enabling farmers to make a decent living, we’ll need new models and alternatives across the entire supply chain.

The most potentially transformative enterprises, however, often face the greatest funding hurdles. The forum’s theme, “Stronger Together,” reflects a growing recognition that collaborative funding strategies involving investors, foundations and communities are essential to getting these types of enterprises off the ground.

We know this approach can work. A growing number of social enterprises supported by what we call ‘integrated capital’ are successfully addressing problems related to food production, processing, aggregation and distribution in ways that contribute to social equity and agricultural sustainability. They’re flying under the media radar, but they’re worth examining as models for the field.

Real progress on tough challenges

Problems at the beginning of the supply chain — dwindling agricultural land, fewer farmers, lack of access to production facilities, and missing distribution links between metropolitan areas and their surrounding farms — are among the most difficult to solve. But several enterprises we’ve worked with in these areas have made real progress.

Viva Farms: Cultivating new farmers

In terms of food production, the biggest hurdles are affordable access to land near consumers and the need to encourage and train more people as farmers (the average age of farmers in the U.S. is 57). Viva Farms, an incubator program operating on 33 acres in Washington state’s Skagit Valley, addresses both issues, working with a mix of highly skilled migrant farm workers who have no access to land or capital and young, educated urbanites who have little agricultural experience. Viva Farms gives these new farmers training in sustainable farming practices, small land parcels with shared infrastructure and marketing support.

The goal is to transition the farmers from incubator to farm ownership with secure long-term prospects. Once farmers establish stable agricultural enterprises at the incubator, Viva Farms helps them relocate to new land and expand operations via a loan fund that provides affordable start-up and growth capital. Start-up costs for beginning farmers in the Valley can range from $30,000 to $500,000; with Viva Farms’ support, farmers’ costs drop to less than $5,000.

The program, launched in 2009, has provided training to about 250 people and launched 15 farm businesses that produce on more than 70 acres.

The primary challenges for the Viva Farms model are maintaining and expanding capital for land purchases and national immigration policy. Migrant farm workers who have the skills and desire to be the next generation of farmers often are hindered by their immigration status. Even if they personally have legal status, an immediate family member may not, and the ever-present possibility of deportation makes it difficult to invest for the long term.

Read the full article here

Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance

Integrated Capital for Social Enterprises

July 17, 2014

Originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review

Don Shafferby Don Shaffer

A thriving social enterprise sector is essential to increasing community resilience and improving the lives of those who’ve been marginalized by the global economy. Social enterprises—which are in business to solve social and environmental problems—are willing to tackle complex systemic problems, build new infrastructure, and develop products and services that address pressing needs even if their profit potential is not obvious or will develop only over a long term.

These enterprises’ ability to succeed is hampered, however, by the current division of capital resources into overspecialized sectors, such as venture investing and charitable foundations, that fund only narrowly defined types of enterprises at particular stages. This situation won’t produce the breadth of social enterprises we need to solve systemic problems, because these enterprises confound the expectations of conventional funders in many ways:

  • They may have to build a supply chain or other systems (rather than just plugging into an existing infrastructure), which results in relatively high up-front costs.
  • They may have slower revenue growth or relatively low profit margins—by definition, they aim to maximize social value before profit.
  • They may have hybrid business models that put them outside conventional for-profit and nonprofit funding models (for example, a revenue-generating business with nonprofit charitable status).
  • They think about growth as a way to serve their mission, not as an end in itself. They may intend to remain rooted in a community and serve as a model to others, for example, rather than pursuing rapid and far-reaching expansion.

To build a thriving social enterprise sector, we need to rethink the purpose of capital and employ an integrated capital strategy. Integrated capital is the coordinated and collaborative use of different forms of capital (equity investments, loans, gifts, loan guarantees, and so on), often from different funders, to support a developing enterprise that’s working to solve complex social and environmental problems.

Read the full article here

Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance

Raising Capital: Challenges and Opportunities for Socially Responsible Businesses and Social Enterprises

June 27, 2014

cutting edge

This is a guest post by Cutting Edge Capital

Raising capital from banks, venture capitalists, and professional investors is a challenge—especially when your business falls into the category of a social enterprise or socially responsible business (“SE/SRB”). Despite the best efforts of SE/SRBs at sorting out financial projections, putting together business plans, applying for loans, and making presentations (a.k.a. pitching), most will be turned away by these types of investors.

It would be easy to declare the situation a result of a cabal of financiers that has it out for SE/SRBs the world over. But in reality, traditional finance just has its own evaluation guidelines for determining the companies that are eligible for financing. These guidelines have been devised to maximize the returns of business underwriting on a large scale, typically with no consideration of socially responsible factors.

The metrics employed by traditional finance are remarkably effective at streamlining the process of evaluating the many thousands of applications and pitch decks that banks, venture capitalists, and professional investors receive each year. This has led to a robust financial services industry and a large amount of capital flowing to forms of businesses that meet the standardized requirements of banks and investors. What this process has not done so well is channel capital to businesses that base their success on more than profits alone—that is,SE/SRBs.

RSF Social Finance’s loan recipients are growing businesses in the areas of food and agriculture, education and the arts, and ecological stewardship. As triple and quadruple bottom line businesses, they are also doing this while paying living wages, lowering their carbon footprints, and generally following sustainable business practices. And yet, if you were to subject these same companies to the evaluation criteria of traditional finance, these things would likely appear as extraneous liabilities, and many of these businesses would be passed over for funding.

Similarly, at Cutting Edge Capital we don’t believe in the one-size-fits-all capital raising solution offered by traditional finance—instead, we bring our experience, legal knowledge, and passion for social change to help our clients determine the best way to achieve their goals. Using a variety of innovative financing tools, including Direct Public Offerings (DPOs), we work with SE/SRBs to raise capital from both wealthy and non-wealthy investors in compliance with securities law.

A DPO allows companies to self-underwrite and self-administer public securities offerings to both accredited and non-accredited investors in one or more states. With a DPO, a company can market and advertise its offering publicly by any means it chooses—through advertising in newspapers and magazines; at public events and private meetings; and on the internet and through social media channels.

There are several legal compliance pathways that can be used to conduct a DPO. Depending on various factors, a company or nonprofit organization can use a DPO to raise up to $1 million per year and, in some cases, more.

Thousands of companies have successfully used DPOs to raise capital from the crowd. Ben & Jerry’s, Annie’s Homegrown, and Real Goods are just a few household names that have used DPOs in the past. Here are a few more:

  • Farm Fresh to You in California’s Yolo County, has raised over $1 million from its customers and is continuing to raise capital on an ongoing basis. Interest on the notes purchased by investors is paid in credits toward organic produce rather than cash.
  • Greenfield, MA-based Real Pickles reached its goal of $500,000 in just two months by offering non-voting preferred stock to investors in Vermont and Massachusetts and converted to a worker-owned co-op.
  • People’s Community Market in West Oakland has raised almost $1.2 million and will open a neighborhood grocery store that helps West Oakland families thrive by offering quality fresh foods, affordable groceries, health services, and a place for community building and recreation.
  • Quimper Mercantile in Port Townsend, Washington, raised about $750,000 by selling common stock to Washington residents and opened for business, ensuring that local residents could continue to buy essentials in their own community.

While SE/SRBs are hindered from accessing traditional sources of financing, a great deal of opportunity exists for raising capital with DPOs and other, non-traditional approaches. Our SE/SRBs clients are using these financing tools to engage their communities and raise capital from the widest possible circle of stakeholders—not just banks, venture capitalists, and professional investors.

Please continue to learn more about Cutting Edge Capital’s work with social enterprises and socially responsible businesses on our website.

Clients in Conversation: Building on a Shared Vision, Part II

April 17, 2014

This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Interview with Mark Herrera, Senior Manager, Client Development

Allegra Allesandri Pfiefer transformed a struggling school into the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the nation. Laura Summer runs a successful year-long arts education program that is completely tuition-free. Both women have experience with the challenges of starting new initiatives that defy others notions of normal. In each case, strong communities played a vital role in their success.

Click here for Part I

Mark: Laura, I’m interested in this model that you have created for sustaining support for your work in a gift economy. Can you talk about how it’s working?

Laura: Free Columbia runs completely on contributions from many individuals, including our students. Sometimes, I do wonder if it’s going to be working next month or next year, but so far, it is.

As a teacher, that gives me this amazing feeling of freedom. I can give the very best that I have to my students and it isn’t tied to what I owe someone for paying me a lot of money. You actually get to teach out of what you know is right for your students in the moment. It’s such a strong feeling that I have given up teaching in any other model.

I’ve also stopped selling paintings for money. We started two years ago having what we call an art dispersal, where we hang up lots of paintings and make them available to the community. Community members can become stewards of the art, which means they can take the art and keep it for as long as they want. They can pass it onto somebody else or give it back to the artist whenever they choose to.

photo courtesy of Free Columbia

photo courtesy of Free Columbia

It was an amazing experience when we first did it. People just came and took the paintings off the walls and took them home. They emailed us about where they were hanging them and sent us pictures. It was as if, until then, the paintings had been out of work and unemployed.

This has also become part of our financial model because people can contribute money to the endeavor and to support the artists.

Mark: Allegra, you’ve been cultivating this really practical and deep approach to educating. What have been some of the highlights or transformative moments for you?

Allegra: I’m actually inspired by some of the parallels that I’m hearing in what Laura has said. I’m reminded of a story about my students. They have a main lesson block in health and nutrition. In one activity, they harvest chard and kale from our garden and prepare it with eggs from our chickens. Students told us that they went home and cooked it all week long for their families—the most green vegetable they could remember eating.

It’s like the artwork going out into the communities, it’s this learning that the students realize, “Here’s something I grew in my own garden at school. We planted it, we harvested, and now, I can take it home and nourish my family.” When that happens, you have families that are being supported by what’s going on in the classroom.

The art of our education is leaving the school campus with these kids and going into their homes—it’s bringing health, nutrition, and love of learning home.

In the first year of the school, I would go into classrooms to visit. The classrooms were chaotic. There was little respect for the teachers, for the learning environment, for the physical space. I walked into one classroom and greeted the teacher in the class. And one girl looked at me and said, “Why are you always smiling?” I thought, “Uh-oh, this is a really hard question to answer, because she thinks I’m happy.” I was actually sad. I wasn’t sure that this experiment of bringing Waldorf methods into the public sector was going to work. I had to think long and hard before I could answer truthfully. I replied, “Well, I love teenagers. I’ve always worked in high schools; it’s the place in education I love. And that’s why I’m here.” And I literally felt like the earth shifted. The kids realized I was serious. They believed that they were in a new kind of environment where learning could be interesting and fun, and where adults would listen respectfully to them. This experience taught me about the incredible potency of Waldorf education. The potency is held in the relationships, the intentions, and the vision that we share which is transforming our communities.

Mark: To wrap up, is there anything that you’ve heard from one another that has really resonated with you?

Allegra: I really like hearing Laura talk about the movement of art in the community. I’ve heard John Bloom speak about the healthy movement of money. And I think it’s true for art and other things. In my world, it might look like trying things, experimenting, not holding fast to certain protocols about education or what it’s supposed to be, but rather exploring through relationship and a safe environment. This picture of movement and flow in an educational setting is really resonating for me.

Laura: Throughout this conversation I’m hearing surety that this deep level of intention does work. It isn’t just that it works in a small, limited, cloistered place where everybody has the same values or the same financial background. It can work for diverse groups of people. And when it does work, it can transform people and allow them to see things that they couldn’t see before.

Allegra Allesandri Pfiefer is the principal of George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science, the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the nation.  She is a graduate of Sacramento Waldorf School and a founder and teacher of San Francisco Waldorf High School. Allegra earned her doctorate at UC Davis as part of her mission to bring Waldorf education to a wide variety of educational institutions.  Sacramento City Unified School District serves 45,000 students and is the only school district in the US to support three public Waldorf-inspired schools educating over 1000 school children.

Laura Summer is co-founder with Nathaniel Williams of Free Columbia, an arts initiative that includes a year-long program based on the fundamentals of painting as they come to life through spiritual science. She has been working with questions of color and contemporary art for 25 years and her approach is influenced by Beppe Assenza, Rudolf Steiner, and by Goethe’s color theory. Her work, to be found in private collections in the US and Europe, has been exhibited at the National Museum of Catholic Art and History in New York City and at the Sekem Community in Egypt.

Clients in Conversation: Building on a Shared Vision, Part I

April 15, 2014

This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Interview with Mark Herrera, Senior Manager, Client Development

Allegra Allesandri Pfiefer transformed a struggling school into the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the nation. Laura Summer runs a successful year-long arts education program that is completely tuition-free. Both women have experience with the challenges of starting new initiatives that defy others notions of normal. In each case, strong communities played a vital role in their success.

Mark: Laura what are some of the successful practices you have used in building your community at Free Columbia?

Laura: Well, it depends on what you mean by community. We have a small community made up of our students and teachers. Then, there’s our supporting community—the people that care about us. These people provide funding and participate in whatever way they can.

Building community in the two circles is different. In the smaller circle, we take between eight and ten full-time painting students and five to seven puppetry interns for a full-time program, all day long, four days a week. In that community, we’re really working closely together. We do biography work. We do group observations of the artistic work. We have a meal together at least once a week. We sing together. We do eurythmy together. All of these things really help to build this core group and a feeling of community.

Our larger circle extends quite broadly. There’s a circle of local people who are interested in the work. They send us donations. Sometimes, they come to a short course. But a lot of them just want this mission to work. And then there are people all across the country, and even in Europe, who are watching out for us. We also have larger public events including an end-of-the-year arts show, and puppet shows in all the public schools in our town. We hold these events to build our visibility and to give something back to our community.

Mark: Allegra, how have you been able to successfully build community at Washington Carver High School?

Allegra: It starts with having a successful practice. Having a clear vision and mission that is shared by people is what creates a community.

I stepped into a community where some of the leaders had grassroots experience and a shared idea of building a public Waldorf-inspired high school. My work began with clarifying what this high school would look like.

One of the communities I work with is the teachers. We meet weekly to do activities like singing, eurythmy, and storytelling so that we can practice elements of Waldorf education together and learn from and about each other. Building a strong working relationship as a faculty was essential so that we could communicate this vision to the larger community.

And more than half of our students and families aren’t necessarily familiar with Waldorf methods. They are involved because Carver is small and safe, and they share the part of our vision that values relationships and human development.

Archery is one of several unique extracurricular programs offered at the George Washington Carver School of Arts & Science

Archery is one of several unique extracurricular programs offered at the George Washington Carver School of Arts & Science

We’ve done a lot of work in these last six years to build our community of parents and students by celebrating together. A common practice is getting together regularly for events where students perform so that families can live some of the educational experience that their students have had.

Mark: What are some of the challenges or obstacles that you’ve faced in building these communities?

Laura: Free Columbia is still a small initiative. It’s interesting that people often come to the full-time program, and they don’t really understand what this year’s worth of artistic process is about. Some of them have no relationship with Rudolf Steiner’s work at all, but they are searching for something, and that draws them here.

So it means that we have to be extremely specific about the expectations we have for the students. We don’t have any set tuitions, we’re not accredited, and we have this donation-based financial model—people think it’s pretty crazy. But once they get involved, it becomes clear. It’s just reaching that level of understanding within our community that is really challenging.

Allegra: One of the biggest obstacles that we had was inheriting a failing school. It was a huge challenge because we had kids and teachers who were frustrated, angry, and marginalized. I had to learn how to absorb that and build our own community with them. We did that by fostering relationships. We treated people with kindness and respect. And people repeatedly said, “Are you for real? We’ve never been treated like this in a public school before.”

I liked what Laura said regarding being really clear about the program. Within my district, our sister schools ridiculed us because we weren’t understood. As we clarified who we were by building a community, by showing growth, both academically and in enrollment, it became clear to our peers that this was working in the public sector, it wasn’t just a private school model.

Another layer of challenges was in meeting district, state, and federal guidelines and requirements. In America, Waldorf schools have grown up and matured in total freedom as private schools. There was a lot of concern about these government regulations removing that freedom.

By demonstrating the education, the curriculum, teacher expectations, student expectations, and outcomes, we have made it clear to the public education system and our private school peers that the public Waldorf-inspired schools are valid, valuable, and thriving educational environments.

Laura: It’s so interesting because what you have created is the strongest answer to objections that a Waldorf school can’t exist within the public sector.

People told me that my students wouldn’t appreciate something unless they paid for it. Until we tried it, I didn’t have a great response to that. But once we established this new model and it worked, then that was the best response to our critics. The living example is so powerful.

Click here for Part II

Allegra Allesandri Pfiefer is the principal of George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science, the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the nation.  She is a graduate of Sacramento Waldorf School and a founder and teacher of San Francisco Waldorf High School. Allegra earned her doctorate at UC Davis as part of her mission to bring Waldorf education to a wide variety of educational institutions.  Sacramento City Unified School District serves 45,000 students and is the only school district in the US to support three public Waldorf-inspired schools educating over 1000 school children.

Laura Summer is co-founder with Nathaniel Williams of Free Columbia, an arts initiative that includes a year-long program based on the fundamentals of painting as they come to life through spiritual science. She has been working with questions of color and contemporary art for 25 years and her approach is influenced by Beppe Assenza, Rudolf Steiner, and by Goethe’s color theory. Her work, to be found in private collections in the US and Europe, has been exhibited at the National Museum of Catholic Art and History in New York City and at the Sekem Community in Egypt.

Creatively Financing the Arts

January 30, 2014

This essay was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Reed Mayfield 3 (2)By Reed Mayfield

Can you recall a moment when a song, a painting, a dance, or a theatrical performance moved you deeply? If you can, perhaps the experience caused you to gain a new or different emotional awareness. The arts have a unique ability to transcend age, socio-economic status, geographic location, and ranges of personal experience. The arts can simultaneously facilitate an artist to produce their work and a patron to enjoy the experience, piece, or production; the arts can also create economic value. Art promotes creativity, expression, identity, innovation, and aesthetics. These things are what we typically associate with the arts. What is less understood, however, is the multidisciplinary impact the arts have on social development, learning, and the economy. These three aspects are at the heart of what RSF focuses on through its lending activity to arts organizations, and they are the indicators of RSF’s values—the arts can serve the highest intentions of the human spirit.

Art takes many forms, and there are many types of organizations that foster the arts through their programs and services. RSF is committed to supporting arts organizations that promote creativity, spiritual awareness, and provide community to people of all backgrounds. Specifically, we fund organizations that contract directly with schools or community-based organizations; provide support systems for artists, or arts organizations; and facilitate the economic prosperity of the arts.

Non-profit arts organizations face several challenges to reaching financial sustainability. In particular, these organizations have historically relied heavily on foundation and individual giving. According to a 2012 report from The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, the recent recession contributed to a 10.9 percent drop in individual giving between 2007 and 2010.  Another financial issue art organizations face is the reimbursable grant format: an organization must incur the expenses related to the programming before a grant is awarded. This form of grantmaking can cause strain on the cash flow of an organization, and make it hard to meet overhead responsibilities, let alone budget for program growth. Arts organizations also tend to have untraditional assets such as contracts, incoming grants, or pledges, which may limit access to credit for growth or operations.

With a strong history of supporting the arts and an understanding of how non-profits work, RSF is uniquely poised to address these financial challenges. In particular, RSF is able to provide critical financing for working capital, facilities renovations, construction projects, or acquisition of space—financing that arts organizations often could not receive from conventional lending institutions. RSF is able to do so by employing innovative financing structures. For example, for working capital needs, RSF is able to offer a Grants Receivable Line of Credit. This entails looking at a forward rolling year of confirmed grants and making funds available based on this total. This gives an organization access to capital when their cash flow may otherwise be strained by inconsistent funding and reimbursable grants. In other cases, some financing needs are addressed by Pledge or Guarantee Loans where the organization’s community participates by providing the assets necessary to secure a loan. This creates a strong financial relationship that involves organizational leadership, beneficiaries or customers, and donors.

As of late, RSF has reinvigorated its historical focus on the arts. Given the state of our culture, the arts and access to them are more important than ever. At RSF, we believe the social value created through the growth of the arts has deep, long-term positive impact in the world. We invite you to join the conversation and share your insights into the arts and how we can create the systems necessary to support their financial and creative sustainability.

Reed Mayfield is Senior Lending Associate at RSF Social Finance

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