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How one social enterprise has grown by building their business skills

In November, Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) held its annual capital matching conference in New York, celebrating a wide array of businesses and entrepreneurs, the lifeblood of the ICCC program. One of these organizations Youth UpRising, of Oakland, California, was created in 2003 in response to heightened racial tensions driven by decades of poverty and strife. Alameda County and the City of Oakland decided to invest in a space that would provide support for a health and human services center designed by and for the youth of the area. They broke ground on a 25,000 square foot facility that year, and opened in 2005 with programming focused on direct service, community relations, and a unique public/private partnership between themselves, government, foundations, and other local service agencies. We sat down with their CFO, John Payne, to hear more about Youth UpRising and how ICCC helped them to scale the impact of their program.

 Youth UpRising’s original involvement came because of its unique position as a social enterprise hub; they give young people the opportunity to receive on-the-job training and build their skill sets, all while providing a funding mechanism for the rest of the work the organization does, creating an incentive for these businesses to succeed. They currently operate three social enterprises: Corners Cafe & Catering, YU Green (landscaping business), and YU Create (media enterprise). In addition, they have a program called YU Achieve that teaches soft skills for jobs, including things many others may take for granted such as how and why to show up on time, job conflict resolution, and financial literacy. Because of the work they do, Youth UpRising faces challenges many other businesses don’t have to deal with, and that has led to them pairing up participating youth with healthcare services on site so that they can meet with clinicians and case managers to deal with any issues outside of work. John said, “inner city kids deal with trauma on a regular basis, so much so they don’t even know they’re living in trauma because they’re so used to it.” ICCC has enabled the programs they run and the services they fund to be more successful, allowing the organizations and the youth they employ to grow together.

 John said that Youth Uprising joined ICCC because “it helps my managers, as well as myself, get a better sense on how to grow these businesses,” and that “[ICCC] has been game changing from the start. It’s been a refresher course for me, and made me hone into the entrepreneurial side of what it is we’re doing.” He continued to say that the program has been “really beneficial for my directors who run my enterprises without the benefit of formal education, and has helped me be a mentor to them because they’re not just hearing it from me.” Even though John has been in finance for 27 years, he says it still “refreshes [his] memory, because the entrepreneurial side is different, with different challenges.”

 ICCC’s programs have been extremely beneficial to the managers, primarily by showing them positive changes to make in how they’re doing things. “They’re great operational people, they can do it, but now we look at it from a business standpoint,” John said in reference to how his team has grown from participation. “Business is business…regardless of what industry you’re in. The concept, the fundamentals, are pretty much the same and you have to apply them.” It has provided them with a blueprint to be more strategic and look at things such as pricing based on what they’ve learned in strategy meetings. This allows them to make better calls when it comes to contracts and other opportunities for the business side of the organization.

 Because of the commitment of individuals like John and the work of ICCC, organizations like Youth UpRising are able to expand and maximize their opportunities. Youth UpRising now has over 13,000 youth members, and every good decision they make on the social enterprise side enables that number to grow, a perfect example of how ICCC affects more than a business’s bottom line; it helps create community and opportunity.


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