Individuals with Obstacles to Employment Finding Opportunity with CleanTurn

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An opportunity for employment, especially for an individual with a challenged background, can be life changing. It’s a step towards self-sufficiency and the chance to make a better life not only for themselves, but for their families and communities. CleanTurn is helping individuals returning from incarceration, drug abuse, poverty and other challenges with employment in a number of fields.

Since its inception in 2011 the social enterprise has created over 300 employment opportunities, but that’s only the beginning of CleanTurn President & CEO John Rush’s vision for the impact the organization can have.

In an interview with Metropreneur, Rush shares more about the mission and future of CleanTurn. He also addresses that fine line of what a social enterprise can mean – and why measuring impact is important. Finally find out what Rush envisions for Columbus and what it could be to the social enterprise community.

[M] Tell us about your background and how it led to CleanTurn.

I had the opportunity to volunteer at a homeless shelter in Chicago and it was there where I began to think through how I might be able to make a small difference in people’s lives. At the time I was working on a Master’s degree in Urban Studies but felt inadequate to the tasks as hand. I continued my academic pursuits earning graduate degrees in Theology, History, Non-Profit Management and an MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern. During my academic work I was able to help start and grow a couple of social enterprises in Chicago. The success of these organizations caught the interest of a couple of philanthropic investors here in Columbus who then recruited me to come and start something here, hence CleanTurn.

[M] How did you come up with the CleanTurn model? Why did you choose to pursue a social enterprise?

The term ‘social enterprise’ is interpreted pretty broadly and depending on who you are talking to you may end up with a couple of different definitions. On the one end you might have for-profits entities that have integrated cause marketing, corporate responsibility, codes of ethics, etc. On the other end, you might have your traditional non-profit. And then you have everything in between. My experience in Chicago was starting and managing LLC’s that were owned by 501C3s (non-profits). In Columbus we have eight owners, including myself, and we have a partnership model where we collaborate with the non-profit community. The general idea is that the profits we generate are reinvested back into the mission of our organization so that the initial investment becomes a gift that gives in perpetuity.

[M] What is CleanTurn’s mission?

The mission of CleanTurn is focused on changing public perceptions regarding those who are returning from incarceration, substance abuse, poverty and other challenging backgrounds. The best way we can change public perceptions is through quality execution.

[M] Tell us more about the services CleanTurn provides.

CleanTurn currently has three business lines. Interior demolition / trash out services; lawn care maintenance / snow removal and general labor. Most of our work is commercial and our primary customers are property management companies and general contractors.

[M] What kind of results have CleanTurn’s programs yielded since its inception?

Since inception we have created over 300 employment opportunities for individuals with significant challenges in their past. Thirty-five percent of those we have hired are either still with us or have moved on to other opportunities in the market place. We have seen over $600,000 of value added through payroll taxes and over $100,000 paid in child support. The estimated social return on investment has exceeded 1,000 percent.

[M] What is CleanTurn’s relationship with She Has A Name Cleaning Services?

CleanTurn can be seen as a Social Enterprise incubator. When we first launched we had a janitorial business line but decided earlier this year we would spin off our janitorial business line under a different name and branding with a more specialized focus on creating training and employment for survivors of human trafficking and women coming out of domestic abuse.

[M] What does the future of CleanTurn look like? Where do you hope things will be in five years?

Our vision is centered on a community development initiative that has at its center the economic engine of CleanTurn’s family of businesses. Our plan includes housing, supportive services, training, education and employment all primarily funded by leveraging market demand for the services and products we provide. Men and women will break the cycle of poverty and recidivism rates will be reduced with an integrated focus on employment and skills development, affordable housing and wrap-around supportive services.

[M]: Let’s talk about some trends. Social enterprises are moving more to the forefront and becoming more common. Do you think this is something that will continue? Especially in the Columbus community?

There remains a lot of ambiguity on what is meant by social enterprise but you are correct in observing an increased interest in the term. Organizations such as Goodwill and their thrifts stores have been around for years. In a sense it is not really new at all. In another sense what we are really seeing is a stronger intentional and consciousness effort not to think of the private and non-profit sectors in radical silos but more integrated – one can see this with the legal structures such as B Corps and L3Cs. The beauty is the reality that the market is desirous of services and products tied to a cause! A danger is manipulative marketing that drives a bottom line without any real interest or any real measurable social return. My vision for Columbus is to see us become a Silicon Valley of social enterprise but this would also include a focus on measuring social return, standards of accountability and increased access to capital.

For more information, visit cleanturn.org.