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Lessons on the ground- Impact Niche

(Series Intro) Last fall, we launched Jubilee Ventures in South Bend, IN. The hope was that our work on the ground would inform the way we direct the future of CovEnterprises, and vice versa. We wanted to create learning loops that allow us to not only champion best practices across the denomination but to apply innovative concepts and approaches on the ground.

All that sounds very exciting, but I’m learning that no matter how refined your concept, the work is always harder because it deals in real life (part of the reason we wanted to launch this anyway, to resist trafficking in ideas!). 

Increasingly, I’ve become convinced that as we seek to cultivate justice and transformation in our neighborhoods that we need to ask more pointed questions about the niche we fill. We’ve talked at length in previous posts—and in our online video content—about starting by defining the impact you want to make through your social enterprise. A piece of that discussion we pick up now is recognizing the niche you are positioned to fill in your community. Part of discerning impact is learning to recognize and evaluate (collaboratively with other community partners!) the work that is already being done in other places. Reduplicating outcomes is common and initiatives chasing the exact same goal is not as rare as it should be. To that end, really coming to understand the work being done by others and where the gaps are in the community can help the discernment process and allow you to hone in very specifically on the impact goals you are creating.

For example, our project Jubilee Ventures has a model that, on the face of it, looks very similar to the myriad other workforce development programs in our community. There are many hundreds of opportunities for people coming out of crisis life situations to find an job with one of these projects designed to help them transition to life stability. For us to recreate that wheel, in an area with relatively low unemployment, wouldn’t create the kind of impact possible if we focused more specifically on the gap in the community. 

In our case, that gap was in the development and launching of community business owners. There are job skill development opportunities for folks in crisis, and entrepreneurial training programs for aspiring entrepreneurs, but it became clear that there was not a way for people with the capacity to own their own business to move toward business ownership proactively. We knew that we could fill that gap by creating a business model intent on apprenticing future business owners. If we could incubate community owned business we knew that our impact would deepen as well because of the derivative benefits of local business ownership. 

Because no one else we’ve met is doing what we are doing, it allows us to collaborate with more success because no one perceives us as a threat and its clear that we are intent on working together for common goals but with differentiated mission. This proved surprising in a way because our model was supposed to help us avoid reduplication of efforts but it ended up also aiding our efforts in building trust in the community. A great lesson we can keep in front of us moving forward!

How are you thinking through your impact niche? How can you fine tune your goals to better collaborate with what’s already happening in the community?

About Adam Gustine

Adam Gustine leads CovEnterprises for Love Mercy Do Justice and the Evangelical Covenant Church. He is also the founder of Jubilee Ventures; an economic incubator in South Bend, IN. He and his wife, Ann, live in South Bend with their three kids.

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