Some of the most prominent members of Santa Barbara’s business community are banding together to make an investment in the area’s nonprofit sector through a new Santa Barbara initiative called Social Venture Partners.
Members of the area’s nonprofit and business sectors spoke about their new collaboration at a press conference at the Santa Barbara Foundation’s headquarters on Nov. 9.
Through the new initiative, which is working in close concert with the Santa Barbara Foundation, area nonprofits Casa Esperanza and WillBridge of Santa Barbara will receive monetary support as well as a network of business leaders and experts in various industries to act as consultants.
The new model is similar to the venture capital model that business leaders are already familiar with, said Joan Young, executive director of Social Venture Partners Santa Barbara, because it “invests” in young nonprofits and helps them grow.
Business leaders working as partners in the new organization include Gary Becker, founder and former managing partner of Becker Law Office in Kentucky, and Neil Dipaola, chief executive officer of Santa Barbara-based real estate investment firm Mesa Lane Partners. From the nonprofit world, Social Venture Partners brings in prominent names including Ron Gallo, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation, and Catherine Brozowski, vice president of the Orfalea Foundations.
The Social Venture Partners concept started in Seattle in 1997 and now has international reach, but this is the first time it has come to Santa Barbara.
Early on, the Santa Barbara program decided to tackle one issue first: homelessness. Over the next several years it will work with Casa Esperanza and WillBridge of Santa Barbara, both organizations working to solve chronic homelessness.
With the financial crisis shaking not just the business world but the nonprofit world as well, it seemed like the most pressing issue at hand, said Paul Gertman, chair of the organization’s investment committee. “The partners said we really needed to focus this group on safety net issues,” he said.
In January, Social Venture partners started its selection process, and by August had narrowed the candidates down from 18 to six. It will now work closely with its two selected organizations to help advance their missions, expand their services and draw in more funding.
Casa Esperanza, a homeless center in Santa Barbara, will receive $31,000 from Social Venture Partners. That money will go in part towards helping the organization launch its “Good Cookie” project. When it began working with Social Venture Partners, Casa Esperanza realized that it had several unused resources at its disposal, including a commercial-grade kitchen that was not being utilized when not used for cooking meals for the center’s residents. The kitchen will now be used to bake cookies for sale — an initiative that means not only revenue, but a job-training tool for the center’s residents.
WillBridge of Santa Barbara, another safe-haven program for the chronically homeless, will receive $25,000 for infrastructure development, additional housing and to expand its care services.
“Here we have an organization of professional people who are here to help us,” said Ron Fox, president of Casa Esperanza’s board of directors. “It’s their confidence in our organization that gives me confidence in what we do.”