I recently had the opportunity to visit Homeboy Industries and its Founder, Father Greg Boyle, here in Los Angeles. If you don't know Homeboy, they are the largest and most successful gang intervention, rehab, and re-entry program in the world. Father Greg, a Jesuit priest, started it in 1988.
Homeboy Industries is most definitely an industry. A big piece of their model is working to get former gang members a job. They say that getting a job gets them 80% of the way to re-entry. There is a lot of work to do to get them ready for a job, but the point is to get a job.
To that end, they have started quite a few social enterprises that hire people that go through the program. These include t-shirt screen printing and catering companies, farmers market booths, a diner at LA City Hall, and a bakery that makes carrot cupcakes good enough to make you sit down. These businesses account for nearly 40% of their yearly revenue. It is a textbook use of business to make social gain.
As I was researching Father Greg and Homeboy, I came across a talk Father Greg gave a couple of years ago. He asked why we go to the margins of society. What do we find there? His answer resonated with me. He said that the reason to go to the margins is not to rescue those that are there — the reason is to be rescued yourself. What we get from that journey is the reason to go rather than the help we provide.
When we talk about volunteering and making a social impact, our focus is on the helper as much as those that are being helped. As the adage goes, "No one feels more powerful as when they kneel down to help someone else".
Some people shy away from the idea that there is something in it for them when they volunteer. But time and time again, we see the deepest transformations in the people that get an opportunity to help.
Go to the margins to be rescued — that is the reason for the journey.