Collaboration & Social Entrepreneurship in the Lehigh Valley
Much has changed in the Lehigh Valley and many other parts of the world as we have moved from the industrial age to the information age. We can see the physical transformation of the Bethlehem Steel brownfield into a vibrant arts center and casino. As well as a struggling downtown Allentown blossoming into a vital business & social center.
Along with these changes in our physical landscape, there have also been some significant shifts in the way we work in our increasingly networked world. The lines between the for-profit, non-profit and government sectors used to be fairly distinct with some rare exceptions. In today’s world, we are discovering that it is necessary to work across sectors and other boundaries to share ideas and resources to address some of the more complex social and environmental issues we are facing both locally & globally.
In recent years there have been many groups in the Lehigh Valley exploring how we might be able to collaborate more efficiently across the boundaries that separate us. The Chamber of Commerce has established a Non-Profit & Business Partners Council. The United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, the Rider-Pool Foundation, and others are exploring ways to implement an ecosystem for Collective Impact. It is an innovative, structured approach to making collaboration work across government, business, philanthropy & non-profit sectors. In many respects, non-profits are becoming more like businesses to sustain themselves and businesses are becoming more like non-profits, addressing social & environmental concerns while still seeking a profit.
Businesses that also want to have a social purpose are now called ‘social enterprises.’ Laws are beginning to change to recognize this type of hybrid organization, and there is now a business structure in about half of the states called the B-Corporation (Benefit Corporation). Pennsylvania just started recognizing the B-Corp as a legitimate business structure in 2013. Examples of existing B-Corps include Patagonia, Cabot Creamery, and Seventh Generation. While it is an aspiration to become a B-Corporation, many small start-up enterprises are also integrating the social & environmental principles of the B-Corp into their business models without actually becoming a B-Corp.
To further support collaboration, more and more ‘co-working’ spaces are being established. These are areas that provide a flexible workspace, Wi-Fi, and a strong sense of community and collaboration (and usually a beautiful kitchen space with really good coffee). These spaces offer a great opportunity for networking and are a good alternative to working at home or from a coffee shop. Companies such as WeWork (over 70 locations globally and capitalized at nearly $20 Billion – v2.wework.com) and the global Impact Hub network (86 locations – impacthub.net) have been leading the way to create beautiful spaces where people want to come to work and build community.
In the past year, the authors of this article and a group of dedicated collaborators established the Lehigh Valley Social Impact Center (LVSIC), a co-working/event/incubator space for social entrepreneurs. The group is also exploring the possibility of becoming a member of the global Impact Hub network. The stated mission of the LVSIC is to:
- Educate, support and provide resources to individuals and organizations seeking entrepreneurial strategies to address social, environmental, and civic issues in the Lehigh Valley.
- Promote effective collaboration across the nonprofit, for-profit and governmental sectors by offering opportunities for community engagement and training within a co-working environment.
- Provide an inspirational co-working space for individual & collective work.
LVSIC is located in the Pi (Partnership for Innovation) incubator space at 520 Evans Street in South Bethlehem, just above Cantelmi’s Hardware Store (and just below the Bethlehem Yoga Loft). The beautiful loft space is open for co-working every weekday from 9am-5pm and offers periodic networking events and workshops to engage and educate social entrepreneurs. Space is open and free for the public to use for the remainder of 2016. Check for current events and details at socialimpactlv.org or on Facebook at facebook.com/LVSIC.