Policymakers often neglect the role of social enterprises in advancing a city's policy agenda. By advocating for the incorporation of social enterprise into social and economic development plans, policymakers can empower social enterprises and support their own policy goals.

"The Sustainable DC Plan started under Mayor Vincent Gray, as well as other initiatives and green compliance standards started by Mayor Muriel Bowser, aims to make DC one of the healthiest/greenest places. We’re trying to tie our mission/vision to its pillars,”

— eff Prost-Greene, Up Top Acres

The Issue:

The missions of government and social enterprise often intersect, especially on issues related to public goods like the clean water and air. However, few governments have taken advantage of the fact that social enterprises can drive change and help solve critical policy challenges. Instead, governments often rely on more conventional approaches, viewing entrepreneurship only through the lens of job creation.

The Solution:

When the issue of stormwater management came to the forefront for DC government, it became part of an ambitious plan to address issues surrounding stormwater runoff to make DC a healthier, greener city. Up Top Acres is a social enterprise that grows food on roofs, converting underutilized urban spaces into productive farmland and environmental safeguard. Through the design, construction and operation of rooftop farms, they provide developers a streamlined solution to comply with environmental and stormwater regulations – maximizing the use of their land and integrating agriculture into intelligent city planning to reimagine food systems in the built environment. Up Top Acres’ work helps enable DC to achieve the 2020 milestones set out in the Sustainable DC plan.

The Impact:

Up Top Acres is now in contact with regulatory bodies in DC. The city and other bodies are working with Up Top Acres to rethink the role agriculture can play in meeting newly established green compliance standards such as the Green Area Ratio, an environmental sustainability zoning regulation that sets standards for landscape and site design to reduce stormwater runoff, improve air quality, and keep the city cooler, and mandated stormwater regulations requiring sites that disturb 5,000 square feet or more of land to retain a certain amount of stormwater.

How it applies to your city:

Policymakers should think beyond the traditional non-profit/for-profit dichotomy when deciding which actors or vendors can help solve challenging social and environmental issues. Social entrepreneurs can be ideal partners for policymakers as they bring a unique combination of impact focus and market discipline to solving social problems. By updating incentive structures and procurement policies, local, and regional governments can form mutually beneficial partnerships with social enterprises that bring innovative approaches and help them realize their policy goals.