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  • SharedExperiencesUSA

Why "Social Impact"

Omw to #SOCAP19 in SF, someone in town questioned why I'm starting Shared Experiences USA as a company, not a nonprofit. Companies profit; non-profits help. Right? The notion of a "social impact company" is newish in the Mississippi Delta and many developing worlds that need it. It's confusing: are you helping us, or profiting from us? It's a fair question in a place where sharecropping ("share"cropping: how's that for an #impactinvesting #agtech 2.0 sounding messed up euphemism!) and the blues were born. Like many, this place has a history of locals being taken advantage of by outsiders who promised to help. People profited off bluesmen who changed the trajectory of American music -- and died penniless or without health care. I often say we're "in the business of doing good." But what does that mean? It means doing more than old-school charity. It's a focus on not only financial but social capital. This SOCAP - Social Capital Markets jargon about social impact, social enterprise, social entrepreneurship ...if it all gives you social anxiety, you're not alone! They phrase it simply as "at the intersection of money and meaning." (You can learn more in the sessions and info they share online.) In the Delta, you've already seen it in action: Quapaw Canoe Company is technically for-profit, but deploys grants in doing the most life-changing, environment-sustaining work you'll find anywhere. Meraki Roasting Company does incredible 'opportunity youth' work; its coffee shop 'profits' go back into the program. Higher Purpose Co. builds community wealth by supporting black business via creative financing like Kiva loans. Our Clarksdale/Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce is bringing in social enterprises like PeopleShores, which is structured as a Public Benefit Corporation. Some are funded by Walton Family Foundation & others eager to talk opportunity zones and investment in rural America today. They are ALL "social impact." Here, in our community. Now here's one more: Shared Experiences USA is Mississippi Delta-based startup. We bring more ppl to Visit Clarksdale and connect them with good people here. Wherever we grow (here's looking at you, Cleveland, Mississippi Visit Oxford Helena Area Chamber of Commerce Memphis, Tennessee & beyond!) our mission is to build bridges connecting people with one another. To answer the initial question, in a very pragmatic sense it's easier to be a company than a 501(c)3 non-profit. God bless American tax structures. More importantly, we want to put the engines of American capitalism to work for good. Our mission is one of impact, and we hope to build metrics that measure that. Our business is about more than the bottom line. Our staff is Teach For America teachers, Delta State University fellows studying social enterprise, Griot Youth Program and other students; they all gain something from their work, too. Our 'product' is simply the connection between people curious about Clarksdale, and the people who make it great. Before any 'profit' funds our operating expenses, revenue will go first to the local host and an organization they choose. For Stan & Hambone Art Gallery it'll be CARES Clarksdale Animal Rescue Effort and Shelter. For Deak's Mississippi Saxophones and Blues Emporium, it's www.PinetopPerkinsFoundation.org. Pinetop Perkins drove a tractor at our local Hopson plantation before boarding the train to Chicago and playing with Muddy Waters. The organization in his name supports young people beginning their musical career, and cares for elderly musicians in their twilight. How's that for impact? As Ground Zero Blues Club founder Bill Luckett says, "You're in the poorest part of the poorest state in the country. But we are very rich in many ways." There are many kinds of capital. Here's to the creative ways this community is bringing it together to enrich us all.