Social enterprise is a neglected tool for advancing the economic development goals and policies set by local governments. When cities incorporate social enterprise into their economic strategies from conception, the ecosystem can be molded to be more amenable to social entrepreneurship and accessible to like-minded actors.

“In the process of developing our economic strategy, we brought together social entrepreneurs and asked, ‘How can we make DC more conducive to social enterprise?’ We think of ourselves in government as the stewards of the ecosystem,”

— Sharon Carney, Economic Strategy Director, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development, DC Government

The Issue:

Economic development plans at the local level often do not consider the unique role that social enterprise can play in promoting economic development, inclusive growth, and innovation. As a result, many governments do not advance incentive and partnership structures that can promote the growth of social enterprise.

The Solution:

When the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development (DMPED) in the District of Columbia began developing the city’s economic strategy last year, the office made promotion of the impact economy a centerpiece of initial discussions. DMPED organized a series of conversations with public and private sector leaders with several uniting questions: “What can the District government do to advance inclusive economic growth in DC? What can you do? What can we all do collectively to move us in the right direction?” Rather than being prescriptive about the “solution” for promoting social entrepreneurship in DC, the office instead brought together social entrepreneurs and other actors in the impact economy to create a more user-oriented experience throughout the process of developing the District’s economic strategy.

The Impact:

The results of the office’s efforts are housed on, which articulates a series of action frameworks for the city. The DC impact economy is identified as an opportunity area for each of these five frameworks. DC has already begun to make its economic vision a reality, with Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announcing a plan to invest millions in local businesses in six targeted sectors, one of which is the impact economy. The goals of the program are to support entrepreneurs facing disproportionate barriers to capital and to grow the private sector economy.

How it applies to your city:

Local governments should consider how social enterprises can contribute to their economic development and inclusive innovation objectives and seek to steward the development of the social enterprise ecosystem in support of those goals. This entails facilitating on-going conversations during the development and implementation of an economic strategy, weaving this feedback into strategic planning, and consolidating information about these initiatives in an easily accessible format.