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Ted rayburn: For profit, for common good

March 12, 2017
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Ted Rayburn 11/19/15. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

About a week ago, I was lucky enough to have witnessed a kindness coup.

The plotters in this uprising are businesspeople who trade in the cause of good, and they announced themselves loudly and clearly with a well-attended, first-ever Prism Awards.

The awards, co-presented by the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and Vectra Bank, celebrate companies and individuals who go well beyond donating a portion of profits or proceeds to charity - their very structure and purpose serves the common good.

If you are unfamiliar with social enterprises, consider the recipients of the March 3 awards:

Blue Star Recyclers, named Social Impact Business of the Year, helps the environment by recycling discarded electronics - and they do so by employing folks with autism spectrum disorders, who have an affinity for the work involved but struggle in other work settings.

Who Gives a Scrap, the Social Impact Startup of the Year, also is in the business of reducing waste, but by repurposing cherished memories. Who Gives a Scrap accepts donated items that were your late parents' keepsakes (for example, old newspaper clippings) and finds them a new home with a teacher, artist or craftsperson instead of a landfill.

Tyler Peoples, the Social Entrepreneur of the Year, took his training as a chef to a place where such expertise is unexpected but greatly appreciated: the Springs Rescue Mission.

As he told The Gazette a couple of years ago, when working in fine-dining restaurants, "I was always a little frustrated by feeding people who weren't really hungry. ... I wanted to help people who were hungry - really hungry."

His work at the Mission not only fills bellies but feeds the soul, changing attitudes about the homeless community.

Why does Colorado Springs seem to be such a hotbed for this sector?

My theory starts with this city's long tradition of nonprofits, from El Pomar to Silver Key, helping when government chooses not to. These organizations continue to do monumental good works for disadvantaged citizens.

As nonprofits, however, their "business" is fundraising, and is thus restricted.

A social enterprise, on the other hand, is constrained primarily by market forces, as with any for-profit business.

A social enterprise has turned its ingenuity not only to private gain but to helping others. That sort of ingenuity thrives in the Springs, flying under the radar as it could not in a city like Denver.

In our town, civic-minded entrepreneurs can get a foothold better than perhaps anywhere else. I look forward to watching their progress and how it could grow into a model for businesses everywhere to emulate.

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Ted Rayburn is business editor for The Gazette; 636-0194 or ted.rayburn@gazette.com.

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