Aspire Honors Local Social Enterprises with Virtual Awards Ceremony

Besa and Zero Waste Event Productions win the 2020 Social Enterprise of the Year Awards - Photo by Anne Evans

It was a virtual celebration of social enterprise in Central Ohio at Aspire 2020.

Community members and supporters watched the sixth annual event online, featuring a keynote interview with Rebecca Dray, executive director of Society Profits, as well as the eighth annual Social Enterprise of the Year Awards, presented in partnership with SocialVentures.

The keynote interview featuring Dray and The Metropreneur’s Susan Post dove into the very heart of Aspire. What does it mean to be a social enterprise?

Dray shared more about the work her company is doing to popularize Social Enterprise Certification in the U.S. and their criteria for certification.

“The key criteria for us, and the most important probably, is that you are a business selling goods and services, but you’re reinvesting more than 50% of your profit in a social or environmental impact, or sometimes both,” Dray says. “Primarily you exist to create impact and benefit in the world.”

With an understanding of what it means to be a social enterprise, Dray discussed other initiatives, like social procurement. Dray’s nonprofit Buy Social USA provides services that help connect certified social enterprises with corporations, governments and other large-scale buyers.

Dray shared a key statistic that put into perspective the importance of supporting social enterprises through initiatives like social procurement, and as an individual with your own purchasing power.

While more research is needed in the U.S. Dray says that a report that came out of Canada found, “For every $100 a company spent with a social enterprise, there was $450 worth of impact reinvested in that community.”

In Central Ohio, SocialVentures makes it easy to find social enterprises to support through its online Marketplace. For those looking to widen the network of impact businesses they support, Dray highlighted Good Market, which is curating networks of social enterprises in one place online.

As social enterprise becomes a more popular way to do business, Dray wants to see more of these businesses telling their stories – a key component of what Aspire and the Social Enterprise of the Year Awards are all about.

Recognizing the extraordinary situation all business owners are finding themselves in due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Awards saw some changes in 2020. Presented in partnership with SocialVentures, two awards were handed out at Aspire 2020 – The Social Enterprise of the Year Award and the Social Enterprise Coronavirus Pivot Award.

The Metropreneur fielded nominations from the public and worked with SocialVentures to select a pool of applicants to send a formal application which outlines their mission and measured social impact. Together, The Metropreneur and SocialVentures reviewed the applicants to determine the top three in each category. A group of judges, including past award winners and esteemed members of the business community, selected the winner of each award. This year’s judges included:

  • Allen Proctor – President & CEO of SocialVentures 
  • Walker Evans – Co-Founder of ColumbusUnderground & The Metropreneur 
  • Lisa Courtice – President & CEO of the United Way of Central Ohio 
  • Dwight Smith – CEO of Sophisticated Systems
  • Paula Haines – Executive Director of Freedom a la Cart, winner of last year’s Social Enterprise of the Year Awards

The awards program featured one-on-one interviews with leaders of the finalists in each category. Each was able to directly share more about their social enterprise and mission, how they have continued to serve the community during the pandemic, and how they measure their social impact.

The Social Enterprise Coronavirus Pivot Award recognized social enterprises that made a significant shift or pivot in their operational model to continue to support the community and make an impact during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Finalists for the award included L.A. Catering, Roosevelt Coffeehouse & Coffee Roasters, and Zero Waste Event Productions.

Impressed with this social enterprise’s sustainable shift in its business model that also directly addressed community needs created by the pandemic, Zero Waste Event Productions was selected as the winner of the Social Enterprise Coronavirus Pivot Award. Facing a season without events, ZWEP pivoted into small plastics manufacturing using the materials it recycles, creating face shields and other products for front-line workers in the community. The new capabilities have created a sustainable revenue stream for ZWEP outside of peak event season as well.

The Social Enterprise of the Year Award recognized social enterprises of any structure with a social mission and demonstrable impact, that have also helped to give social enterprise a name as a way to do business in Central Ohio.

Finalists for the award included Besa, Fortuity Calling and Mod Squad.

Honoring this social enterprise’s proven business model that uses its services to leverage others to create even more impact, Besa was named the Social Enterprise of the Year. Besa has helped both individuals and companies find easy ways to step up and address needs in the community through volunteer opportunities. During the pandemic, Besa helped its nonprofit partners with increased needs by organizing supply drives and helping to safely engage volunteers.

Learn more about this year’s finalists and award-winners here.

Aspire 2020 was made possible with support from SocialVenturesBarnes & Thornburg and ECDI. Thank you to all of those who watched and donated. Your donations help to support the award-winning local journalism published on The Metropreneur.

If you missed Aspire 2020, you can still watch the full event below!