In our late teens, many of us were building the foundation for the rest of our lives. We were driving our first cars, graduating from high school, dating, and starting our first jobs.
When Michael was 17, he started a 15-year to life prison sentence for a gang-related murder. He didn’t pull the trigger, but he was in the car. He received a harsh sentence even though he was a minor with no criminal record.
He was finally paroled 17 years later thanks to his good behavior as well as his commitment to education, his faith, and most importantly, a change in the sentencing laws for youth. Upon his release, he was ready to turn his life around and contribute to society. However, his felony record left him with little hope of finding a job or creating a productive life.
This is where a new approach to job creation – social enterprises – is opening doors to opportunity. Social enterprises have a social mission alongside their business purpose. They hire people who are overcoming significant employment barriers, such as homelessness, incarceration, limited education, or challenges with mental health or addiction. These businesses reinvest their profits to help their employees build skills and confidence while developing a work history. When employees are ready, social enterprises help them find and keep competitive long-term jobs, leading to economic security and mobility.
As part of its first round of grants for its new equity grant strategy, The San Francisco Foundation has awarded a $150,000 grant to REDF, a San Francisco organization that invests exclusively in social enterprises. The grant comes from the foundation’s new grant pathway called “Expanding Access to Opportunity,” which is trying to reduce the barriers to good jobs for Bay Area residents.
One of the organizations that REDF supports, the Center for Employment Opportunities, helped Michael get the training and support he needed to succeed.
“A job is so much more than a paycheck” said Michael. “It’s a door back into society. Work helped me overcome the obstacles I faced coming out of prison.”
Today, Michael is a Clinical Case Manager at the Placement Diversion Reentry Program for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and is working towards his Bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State University. He is also active in the movement to help prevent young people from returning to jail after they’ve been released.
Michael was fortunate to get the help he needed to find a good job, despite his prison record. However, tens of thousands of people in the Bay Area cannot find jobs that pay a living wage. Many are people of color, young adults who are not in school, people without basic skills, workers with limited experience, immigrants and those with limited English proficiency, or people like Michael who have been incarcerated.
At The San Francisco Foundation, our goal is to create a way for Bay Area residents to thrive and reach their full potential. To achieve this goal, we are investing in a strategy that will help remove barriers to employment and increase the number and quality of good jobs. Investing in social enterprises like REDF is part of that strategy in addition to working with organizations fighting to change policies, provide training, and improve education so that every Bay Area resident can have a job that offers real opportunity.