Since the earliest days of the region as a Mecca for wealthy families, philanthropy has been part of the social scene.
Some efforts, notably Direct Relief International, have grown from informal ideas into world-class social organizations. But lately, philanthropic efforts often seem to be single-cause focused, reflecting the special interests of donors.
From the Santa Barbara Foundation and a group of 40 individuals comes a new and promising approach to solving social problems.
The group has formed a newly announced chapter of a nascent national organization called Social Venture Partners. Social Venture Partners presents a combination of financial and professional skills to attack social problems and build management expertise within small organizations.
The Santa Barbara Chapter was founded a year ago, and it operates under the auspices of the Santa Barbara Foundation. It has moved cautiously to examine issues and get engaged.
In an announcement this week, the chapter announced it had made homelessness its primary cause and that it had raised slightly more than $50,000 to fund two organizations, Casa Esperanza and WillBridge of Santa Barbara.
Casa Esparanza will get seed financing to develop a baked goods business that will provide new revenue for the organization and much-needed job training for the homeless participants in the Casa Esperanza program.
WillBridge will get money to advance its efforts to serve mentally ill, chronically homeless individuals who have been on the streets for years. The group eventually hopes to build a facility to house the chronically mentally ill homeless.
We’d argue that the homeless are by definition a highly mobile population and that truly addressing Santa Barbara’s problem will likely involve a regional approach that encompasses at least the city of Ventura where homelessness has soared in recent years.
But this is an extremely promising start. By emphasizing private-sector solutions, Social Venture Partners has the potential to create an exciting and effective new niche in the nonprofit community.