Open Source – A model for Social Enterprise

I first became acquainted with open source software in the mid-1990s. My brother James asked me if I had heard of Linux. I had not heard of it up until that time. A few weeks later I bought Red Hat 5.0 at the nearby Staples. Now, the open source model applies to more than software, but then even the thought of working for the common good appealed to me. There was after all a higher calling in this work. It reminded me of the early Apple II days when people shared their work and their code.

In the years that followed I became sold on the utility of open source software and the concept of working for the greater good. I believe it’s possible to sustain oneself while at the same time providing a valuable service to the customer. It’s a win-win proposition. Open source software really fueled the development of the internet. Platforms like WordPress, Twitter and Google itself run on open source. But what does the future hold and can the open source model be applied to other ventures too. This summer I came across an open source eye ware manufacturer in the United Kingdom called Botho. This quote taken from their “Why Botho” page really sums it up.

Open Source is about listening to our community, understanding our needs, developing solutions and facilitating our growth in a selfless way.

“Facilitating growth in a selfless way”. That’s really the heart of open source and social enterprise. That’s appealing to me.

Fully Human

Earlier today I was reading Joan Chittister’s book, “Becoming Fully Human.” It’s a great read and filled with bite sized quotes from Sr. Joan and others. One of those morsels resonated with me.

The purpose of life is to let God work through us to make the world a better place for every living creature. Anything less than that which calls itself sanctity is a sham

I’ve been thinking a lot about social enterprise and how well this desire to make the world a better place for every living creature fits in that paradigm. Are there ways to earn a livelihood that make the world a better place for every living creature? What does such an enterprise look like? When I think of social enterprise I think of Grameen Foundation and Kiva which allow micro finance that empowers entrepreneurs and others looking for financial assistance. In a time when greed seems pervasive it is ennobling to see businesses designed to help the neediest among us.

Economic Development for the Southern Tier

I’m meeting on Wednesday with an attorney in Buffalo to help me setup a 501c3 entity whose purpose is to wed social enterprise with economic development and community empowerment in New York State’s southern tier. That’s my backyard and this idea sprang from a course that I took at St. Bonaventure University’s “Franciscan Institute” this past summer. The course taught by noted author Keith Warner, OFM inspired me to consider how we could help “at-risk” youth in the area, students at St. Bonaventure University, foster entrepreneurs, encourage sustainable business and provide an incubator for other entrepreneurs.The project which is currently called “mPath” is still in its infancy. We have one board member and some people who are interested in being involved.

As a 501c3 we will need to raise money. That’s something I know very little about. I’ve been in a partnership and now the CEO of DGW Enterprises LLC. Those businesses fit a more traditional model of providing service for a fee. This venture is much more ambitious and requires some skill sets that I have not employed yet. The southern tier of New York State which includes Cattaraugus, Allegany, Steuben, and Chautauqua counties are among the most spectacular tourist vistas in the Empire State. Nonetheless, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties are among the state’s poorest. An area that was once home to dairy farming, agriculture, oil and gas production and industrial development has been languishing for over thirty years. Communities and school systems are in decline. The area is home to Alfred University, Houghton College, State University at Alfred, Fredonia State College, Jamestown Community College and St. Bonaventure University. Graduates of these institution have not found local employment a lucrative market. Politicians continue to promise a chicken in every pot and a return to the prosperity of yesteryear. Until now the rhetoric has been hollow. How do we empower and mentor youth with realistic twenty-first century skills. How do we create a sustain an economy that keeps our youth and encourages the development of the area in a manner that respects the earth and blesses its inhabitants.

Contemporary society needs new models of engagement and practice which will result in healing the social fabric through the offer of hope to a beleaguered citizenry. Globalization is an economic reality which cannot be sidestepped or avoided. We need leaders who can embrace a world view that reflects not and either or proposition but one that is both and. The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition embodied in the writings of St. Francis of Assisi, John Duns Scotus, St. Bonaventure, and others indicate a way forward. We seek an ethic that looks for and appreciates the common good and invites fraternity among us. In recent decades a broad intermediate area has emerged between the two types of enterprise. It is made up of traditional companies which nonetheless subscribe to social aid agreements in support of underdeveloped countries, charitable foundations associated with individual companies, groups of companies oriented towards social welfare, and the diversified world of the so-called “civil economy” and the “economy of communion”.

One of the most important things is for every business to measure what matters — not just profits, but impact on our communities, employees, and the environment. I want to re-create my own LLC as a B-Corp, but more than that I see mPath as an incubator of social good that connects at risk youth, with aspiring college students and their institutions that form partnerships and provide a think tank for the creation and sustenance of vision and direction for the southern tier that is not wed to any particular politics other than empowerment for all.

Allegany County Fair


It is near 100 degrees and high humidity but I’m happy to be sitting in the grandstand at the Allegany County fair in Angelica, New York. It’s my first visit here and I’m impressed with the quality of this small county fair. Fairs date back countless centuries and they are still important today. There are hundreds of folks here tonight. I have seen some familiar faces in the crowd. All of them are educators. Educators are people oriented folks and county fairs are a natural venue for them. There is a lot of teaching and learning going in here tonight. There are no high stakes tests and there are lots of smiles. There will be some tests at the rodeo tonight but everyone will enjoy them. I’m grateful to be here tonight.

Allegany Harvest Market

I’m helping some friends and fellow cooperative market share holders do something good for the future of the Allegany Harvest Market which is a new cooperative market venture being started in Houghton, New York. I’m excited and I hope that this blog post helps them to gain more members. One of the principles that I learned long ago is that the best way to be successful is to help someone else succeed. It is in that spirit that I recommend that you seriously consider membership in the cooperative.

At the moment, our cooperative stands at 37 member-owners (m-o’s) – more than a third of the way to our June 1 goal of 100! – but we still need a lot more m-o’s. We have a group of us working hard to get the word out and recruit new m-o’s – you may have seen evidence of our work around in the form of posters and “blurbs” in various publications. We need your help, though. Each of you has invested interest and financial resources into this project and I know you’d all like to see it move forward. To that end, we need you to help us with recruitment. For added incentive and a bit of fun, we’ve decided to create a contest! Here are the basic details:

* If you convince 10 or more people to attend an informational meeting or an open house before June 1 (see details below) and they each sign in and list you as their referral, you will receive a free dozen eggs from one of our future vendors.
* If you convince 5 or more people to become m-o’s before June 1 and they each list you as their referral on their member-ownership application, you will receive a choice of several items from some of our future vendors (choices may include health and beauty products, meat, or other goodies).
* You will get an additional 1/2 credit for every new m-o referred by one of your recruits – this is a nice easy way to bump ahead in this competition!
* The m-o who refers the most new m-o’s before June 1 will receive a large collection of great items from some of our future vendors.
* There will be brochures available for you to pick up and distribute. Find them at Our Common Ground starting Wed. April 27 or email if you need other arrangements to pick them up.

Good luck!
Becky Webb
for the Member-Owner Outreach Team (MOO)

Here are the details of upcoming recruitment events:

Upcoming Informational Meetings

* Wed. April 27 @ 7pm
* Thurs. May 12 @ 7pm
* Tues. May 17 @ 7pm

Open House Events

* Sat. May 7 – Family fun open house from 1-3pm
* Sat. May 28 – Open house and booth at the Houghton Community Yard Sale

All events will take place at the future AHM space – next to Our Common Ground, in the old Citgo station in Houghton.