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The Tentmakers of Zanker Road


By Gregory Kepferle,
Chief Executive Officer
Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County

The audience was rapt as one by one the entrepreneurs made their pitches. The panel of reviewers listened intently, took notes and then gave their feedback.  While the meeting took place in Silicon Valley, the entrepreneurs were not tech startups, nor were the reviewers your usual venture capitalists. Rather these eight scrappy social entrepreneurs were program staff of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County presenting their business plans to faculty and mentors from Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.  Each enterprise sought creative ways to further develop and sustain funding for their services while creating greater impact for people in need. For a number of social service staff, it meant learning a new language and new concepts like “value chains.” Others wrestled with the dilemma of charging fees to clients while staying true to our mission of helping people move out of poverty. Throughout the presentations, the social entrepreneurs demonstrated their passion for helping people in need combined with professionalism and business acumen.

While many might think that social enterprise is a new concept, it is as actually as old as scriptures. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 18:3), Paul describes himself as a tentmaker working with fellow tentmakers in Corinth while preaching and teaching. And later in his farewell to believers in Ephesus, Paul declared, “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20: 34-35) The fruits of Paul’s business are dedicated to care for those who are in need. In today’s Catholic Charities, “tent making” takes many forms.
Modest registration fees leverage government contracts and philanthropy in our afterschool enhanced learning programs that help children learn and keep them safe while their parents work.  Affordable immigration legal service fees respect the dignity of the person seeking legal assistance, while allowing staff to serve more clients. Those unable to pay can receive scholarships through separate grant funding. Offering affordable house sharing options to health and social service systems may enable helping professions retain staff in a high housing cost environment. Marketing our geriatric aide training and placement program to homecare companies can provide them with a workforce and the training program with a revenue stream while helping workers get into the allied health fields for better paying jobs. These are just of a few of Catholic Charities’ opportunities for creating a greater social impact while earning income at the same time.

If you want to learn more about how to invest in the social enterprises at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, feel free to email me at gkepferle@CatholicCharitiesSCC.org. To learn more about Catholic Charities’ Community Impact Funds, visit www.CatholicCharitiesSCC.org.