Skip to content

Introduction to Employment Social Enterprises

What is an Employment Social Enterprise?

Despite the drive to succeed, millions of Americans remain sidelined from access and opportunity in the workforce. They face steep barriers to employment – barriers often caused and compounded by the racial inequities embedded in our systems.

For over 25 years, REDF has worked to ensure that we no longer miss out on this untapped talent. We do that by investing in and driving demand for employment social enterprises (ESEs) – businesses that hire the very talent that others have sidelined. ESEs exist because they see this talent pool for the strengths they hold, not the barriers they face. Employment social enterprises are businesses achieving transformative social impact by providing jobs, training, and support to people breaking through barriers to employment.

What are the main features of an ESE?

There are two notable features of any ESE. First, they are businesses that sell high-quality products and services just like any other business in the marketplace. ESEs compete in a wide variety of industries, including cleaning & maintenance, construction, healthcare, food prep & serving, consumer goods, technology, and temporary staffing among many others. ESEs can be either a nonprofit or for-profit organizations.

Second, they intentionally hire, train, and support workers breaking through barriers to employment– and use the proceeds of the business to further invest in their people. These workers play a fundamental role in the production, delivery, and/or sale of the ESE’s products and services. The most common focus populations among ESEs in REDF’s network are individuals with criminal justice involvement, a history of homelessness, or opportunity youth. However, these groups represent only a portion of the diverse individuals ESEs serve across the country. Almost all ESEs have an Employee Success Program which refers to the set of activities, services, benefits, or resources that are provided to participant workers. The ultimate goal of an Employee Success Program is to remove barriers, provide skill-building opportunities, and ensure participant workers have lasting economic mobility and success in the labor force.

Where can I learn more about what it means to be an ESE?

If you are new to the ESE space, we recommend watching our video below.

Where should I begin on REDFworkshop?

We think of REDFworkshop as an “ESE’s Toolbox”, that has concepts and best practices for folks who lead and work in employment social enterprises. We’ve used that concept to organize this platform to make it as easy as possible to find the right “tools”. To learn more about a specific topic related to ESE, check out the Browse by Topic section which you can find at the top or bottom of the website. If you’re brand new to this space, we recommend checking out the Business Planning, Employee Success Program , and ESE Glossary sections first.

Good luck on your journey and welcome!