Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) has pledged its support for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)--17 goals aimed at transforming our world through eliminating poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. Dave Moore, an EO member in Cleveland, recently started a social enterprise, The Circle Society, which brings together senior citizens, youth aging out of the foster system, and rescue dogs in a community of support. His efforts address at least two critical UN SDGs--Goal 1: No Poverty and Goal 10: Reduced Inequality. We asked Dave about this new social venture. Here's what he shared.
What is The Circle Society?
It's a self-sustaining social enterprise that empowers at-risk, emancipated foster youth to lead productive lives through a dynamic housing model aimed at healing several broken aspects of society. We provide former foster kids with the critical resources, sense of security and life coaching they need. In the same setting, senior citizens find renewed purpose in helping these kids realize their vision for successful lives. The rescue dogs help bond the two generations together with a mutual interest they care about.
Residents of our intergenerational living community value, teach and learn from one another, and share a common understanding of what it means to be part of a safe and caring community.
How did this unique idea originate?
Ironically, it stemmed from a place of anger! As I was learning how to train service dogs, we visited group homes for foster kids. I found the kids so lonely and starved for love and wisdom that some were more interested in getting my attention than in meeting the dogs. Then, when we took the dogs to senior living settings, I saw so much untapped wisdom sitting there―people with time on their hands and life experiences to share.
We also taught at-risk, incarcerated youth to train dogs. I met a 17-year-old gang banger who turned out to be an amazing leader, a great dog trainer and an overall good guy. We found a common focus in working with the dogs, and I saw how that commonality could facilitate a bond between people who are otherwise very different.
Love, time and wisdom. What about putting young adults and seniors together with dogs in need and trying to raise the bar for all of them? That became my mission.
How did you structure the enterprise to achieve sustainability?
The nonprofit Circle Society owns three for-profit entities, whose profits all roll up to fund the social initiative.
We have a headhunting franchise and a real estate management company that handles housing for our participants. And we're working on a Shark Tank-style concept to incubate the cool entrepreneurial ideas these young people have. We'll invest in them and then own a small equity stake of the companies as they launch.
Where is The Circle Society in its growth?
The program is built. We're a preferred provider for Ohio's new program that provides funds to help foster kids from the time they leave facilities at age 18 until they turn 21. We'll visit foster facilities about three months before kids age out to help them transition to adult living. We have two apartments set up and ready for the first group of kids.
We have senior volunteers signed up, and we're investigating which apartments to buy and refurbish to help generate income. As we assess the interests of each incoming youth, we'll match them with a senior life coach who has that skill set.
We've also partnered with Canine Lifelines to supply rescue dogs for training, and we're teaming with volunteer dog trainers. Our first horizon is to take on dogs that need basic obedience training to be adopted. Our second horizon is service dogs, and we'll be working with Wags for Kids to place trained service dogs with special needs children.
What have you learned on this journey?
I've gained a new business perspective. When you compare a for-profit to a nonprofit, the execution and effort needed to get things done at the level you want is night and day.
On the personal side, I've gained a huge appreciation for the hurdles kids from the foster system face, even when they're on the right track. They're confronted with far more than I ever imagined--and they have fewer resources to deal with those challenges. They're faced with poor communication, lack of knowledge about their options, and few people who care about changing that.
How can other entrepreneurs make a social impact?
If you have a great idea that can make a significant impact, start thinking early about how to make it self-sustaining so that you don't need to fight for donor dollars through fundraising and grant writing. It will give you the confidence to focus on your mission.
We went into The Circle Society with the notion of creating a model that could be self-sustaining and reproducible anywhere in the world. You could take this idea and start a similar program in your community. In fact, that's the goal--we hope you will!