December 17, 2016; WCPO (Cincinnati, OH)
Over the last five years or so, NPQ has written about various forms of community social enterprise that either started as nonprofits and built earned revenue business models for support, or started as for-profits but found they were more suited to some of the aspects of nonprofithood. Among them, we’ve seen a lot of independent bookstores, at least one video store, and a few legal services groups. Most shared the element of belonging to a community that longs for enrichment.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, for instance, a small storefront holds the innovative nonprofit Indigo Hippo shop, which recycles gently used or unused art supplies. Up until now, it has functioned as something of an art thrift shop, which in and of itself is a great idea. But going forward, it will take the idea one step further by initiating a pay-what-you-can policy.
This very small social enterprise strikes us as a particularly brilliant way to encourage and support young artists, and it provides yet another model for business that encourages both community well-being and environmental sustainability.
When we see an effort like this, we think about the interview we did with Douglas Rushkoff early this year in which he said:
I think that the nonprofit sector in particular is perfectly situated to help us transition to a different economic landscape. You know, most nonprofits think of themselves as doing something good, but what I want to try to make them more aware of is that the nonprofit structure itself, the way the business is actually structured, may be doing more good than whatever their particular business is.
And that’s sort of my basic premise—while the public looks at nonprofits as do-gooders, I’m looking at the structure of nonprofits and not-for-profit corporations as business entities. Because they’re not for sale, because they’re not shareholder- or share value–maximizing companies, what they end up doing is promoting revenue and the exchange of value and the circulation of money, which revives a whole economy rather than enriching the few.
He goes on to suggest that with the use of technology such businesses could be horizontally linked to create scale in the creation of alternate and more pluralistically owned and less extractive “business” ventures.