Social Venture Partners RI (SVPRI) is a philanthropic organization with an innovative twist. In addition to funding nonprofits, they supply teams of experts to teach nonprofits how to develop social enterprises (mission-driven businesses) to provide them with sustainable income, and/or jobs and training opportunities.
Since 2002, SVPRI has been recruiting professionals from many different fields to donate their money, time and expertise to assist selected nonprofits. These committed partners believe that leveraging their dollars with an investment in hands-on consulting is the most effective way they can help those in need in their community.
The RI group is part of an international network of over 1700 partners in 24 cities and three countries who have given more than $21.6 million and six times that amount in in-kind contributions to over 230 nonprofit organizations.
Kelly Ramirez, SVPRI’s director, came to Rhode Island from Michigan a year ago, and immediately felt at home in what she calls Providence’s “entrepreneurial and socially-minded community.” Formerly the head of a social enterprise research initiative at the William Davidson Institute, an international business development think-tank at Michigan University, Ramirez specialized in the study of Eastern European social enterprises. She jumped at the chance to run SVPRI when the position opened up.
Ramirez says that like all nonprofits in this depressed economy, SVPRI is facing challenges, but in keeping with the innovative spirit of her organization, they are meeting those challenges by trying new approaches. On November 12th SVPRI will host their first Social Enterprise Summit, at Bryant University, where Rhode Island’s growing number of social innovators and entrepreneurs can share experiences, best practices and resources. A Social Enterprise Marketplace will run alongside the Summit, showcasing products and services. Ramirez hopes the director of President Obama’s new Office for Social Innovation and Civic Participation, Sonal Shah, will accept her invitation to attend the Summit and see first-hand that Rhode Island is becoming a social enterprise Mecca.
Another new idea in the works is the launch of “Social Enterprise RI,” a website that will foster an online community of social entrepreneurs. SVPRI continues to organize its popular annual Student Social Enterprise Business Plan Competition, in which teams of talented business students from RI’s colleges create social enterprise business or marketing plans for RI nonprofits. Through this innovative partnering program, students gain valuable, real-world experience, and nonprofits gain free business development consulting. This creative leveraging of resources is what social enterprise is all about.