Social Enterprise Conference

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Oct. 10, 2006

Across the country, nonprofits are looking to business strategies to enhance their effectiveness and generate revenues to sustain their organizations. “This is particularly true for community development organizations working to revitalize persistently poor communities,” notes Andrew Foster, associate clinical professor of law and director of Duke’s Community Enterprise Clinic, who says they are doing so through the development of residential and commercial real estate, stimulation of new businesses, and provision of needed goods and services, including access to capital.

While these new “social enterprise” strategies offer significant opportunities to the nonprofit sector, they also present major business and legal challenges. The Community Enterprise Clinic sponsored a successful day-long conference on September 27, to help community development practitioners understand these issues and see how they can be addressed.  The conference, entitled “Social Enterprise and Community Economic Development: Recognizing and Managing Common Barriers to Business Success and Community Impact,” attracted more than 100 attendees, primarily staff and board members of nonprofit community development organizations from North Carolina and other Southern states.  Sessions examined such diverse topics as financing social enterprise, conducting effective market research, social enterprise strategies that work for rural communities, and the presentation of a case study that, among other things, explored the legal issues involved in structuring and operating a social enterprise venture.

Conference speakers and presenters included Durham Mayor Bill Bell; Valeria Lee, president of the Golden Leaf Foundation; Abdul Rasheed, chief executive officer of the North Carolina Community Development Initiative; Billy Ray Hall, president of the North Carolina Rural Center, C. Everett Wallace, president of Initiative Capital; David Rendall, professor of business at Mount Olive College; Tom Kelley, clinical professor of law at the University of North Carolina Law School; and Foster. The conference was co-sponsored by Wachovia, BB&T, the Corporation for Enterprise Development, the Center for Community Self-Help, the Initiative, SRDI and the Rural Center.

In light of the enthusiastic response from conference participants, Foster plans to collaborate with theNorthCarolina Community Development Initiative on a series of regional training workshops for community development practitioners over the next year. These will focus on specific topics such as structuring and managing for-profit subsidiaries, franchising as a social enterprise strategy, and managing organizational/cultural change, he says.