Aspire Indiana - Social Enterprises
Aspire Indiana’s Social Enterprises program represents a deviation, a step forward, from the industry norm in behavioral health of addressing employment barriers through referral services. At Aspire behavioral health, primary care, and social determinants of health are integrated to provide comprehensive, holistic care for those we serve. Employment is a key determinant of health. When barriers to employment, whether they be physical or mental, are not quickly overcome, Aspire Indiana’s Social Enterprises provide an opportunity to employ these individuals in an environment that respects and works with their individual challenges, while building their professional and soft skills.
Aspire’s Social Enterprises includes Harvestland Farm, which produces a wide variety of organic produce year round that is sold to local restaurants and through its on-site farm store. Other social enterprises include vending services, which serve 100 locations throughout central Indiana, housekeeping services, and integrated placements within Aspire’s corporate structure.
These innovative enterprises serve the three part purpose of meeting a community need, helping fulfill our mission of making health and well-being a reality, and meeting tangible business goals. Through the develop of these enterprises, Aspire has been able to leverage their unique opportunities to extend their impact throughout the organization.
Aspire’s social enterprises demonstrate creativity and ingenuity in approach and implementation. When social enterprises were first started, they operated as stand alone entities. What Aspire has done is paired social enterprises with an existing community mental health center, where both entities benefit from the partnership. What is also unique is Aspire’s empowering approach. The social enterprises have been given the specific goal of being more than 50% operated by individuals with barriers to employment. These individuals are taking leadership roles and are being trusted with various responsibilities and are empowered to think creatively to find solutions. By demonstrating this trust and belief in their abilities, we are helping build their sense of self-worth. Through the social enterprises programs, Aspire is helping address the 60-80% rate of unemployment for individuals with disabilities of any kind, and in turn helping establish an essential building block of health and well-being in their lives.
Aspire launched its first social enterprise in 2008, and at the time the concept was still new in the nonprofit sector, and almost unheard of in the behavioral health sector. The social enterprises have operated like any traditional business would, self promoting and using the power of customer referrals to drive awareness. This has been largely successful in building awareness of Harvestland Farm and surrounding enterprises. Attention to the innovative nature of the enterprise and how they fit the needs of the surrounding community have been documented locally and beyond. While Aspire wouldn’t want to claim credit for inspiring social enterprises at other organizations, our social enterprises are one of the most frequently asked about and lauded aspects of our scope of services, and our emphasis on the social determinants it noted by our peers when our program and organization leadership meet in various collaboratives, peer groups, and action teams.
Social enterprises are inherently interested in their own self sustainability. The community benefit extends beyond the individuals they employ, in that rather than benefiting shareholders with returns, revenue is turned back to the organization to fund other non-sustainability programming. Those vested in the continued success of our social enterprises include the surrounding community to our farm store, that doesn’t have a grocery store or food retailer within the municipality’s limits or surrounding vicinity. Businesses who choose our vending services have been powerful advocates for the quality of services provided and the mission we are striving to fulfill.
Aspire has also benefited through the housekeeping services enterprise. With 14 locations, housekeeping is a major expense that Aspire is able to pay itself for, rather than paying an external provider. In a time where funding is increasingly competitive, these cost saving are the innovative practices more organizations need to find for themselves.
Many organizations struggle with board engagement. We look for professionals to help guide our organizations, but when the time comes to participate they are rarely asked to lend their professional expertise. Social enterprises represent an opportunity for business savvy leadership to be creative and responsive to their needs and the needs of those they serve, while providing a needed business service. These opportunities engage both the mind and heart of those who participate. With opportunities like these, passionate individuals can be found to replicate in their own unique ways the social enterprise model to support community mental health care organizations. While start up funding can be challenging, Aspire has found that funders have been responsive in supporting proactive efforts like our social enterprises to build sustainable sources of revenue.
The easiest way to measure the results of the social enterprises is through hours and cents. Since 2008, Aspire’s social enterprises have employed 135 individuals, totaling 159,443 mission hours served and $1,155,957.47 in earned wages. The true results extend much further. The ripple effect has meant fewer homeless individuals, fewer individuals exhausting already stretched social service agencies, and the presence of an organic farm in an under served community. Ultimately by incorporating an innovative approach to providing employment opportunities to individuals with barriers to employment we are addressing one of the key factors of health. We are enhancing the ability of our behavioral staff to effectively implement treatment plans, because their time and attention are no longer focused on meeting the basic need of employment.
To learn more, please visit