A New Model for an Old Problem

Authors: Jose Narvaez | Engineering student

"When a social entrepreneur creates the model, she surveys her community and asks: "Where is the injustice?" Having identified it, she then goes back to the drawing board and constructs a solution to the suffering she finds among her community. A solution in the form of a social business that looks and acts in a very specific way: the way the community needs it to look and act, not the entrepreneur."

– Unknown

A little over a month ago, I wrote a blog about how fast food chains in my neighborhood were accepting EBT to entice low-income people to spend food stamps at their locations. After the post, I received some responses asking what can be done about this situation. Hopefully this post will provide larger context for this issue, and propose a possible way to tackle the problem.

I became interested in this issue because, a year before I started seeing fast food chains doing this, I too had a plan to provide hot meals in exchange for EBT. The heart of this model, however, would be radically different. A menu would be developed to sell food that would transition many of our communities off fast food. The menu would have ingredients that were known to help fight common health problems in our communities that are often related to a poor diet. The prices of these meals would be competitive with other fast food chains.

Customers would not pay for these meals with cash but instead with their EBT cards. The extra cost of wholesome ingredients would be subsidized by local hospitals; hospitals often have programs that focus on the overall health of low-income communities in their areas. Although I've never worked in hospital finance, I assume that hospitals see the poor health of low-income communities nearby as a financial liability. The model I'm proposing reduces that liability, creating an incentive for hospitals to invest in such a venture.

I do not claim to know hospitals' financial motivations. But I do know that creating new systems to counter systemic injustices is the only way anything will change. More importantly, in order to be effective these systems must be developed in our communities.

In the for-profit world, over 1 million new businesses are begun each year in the U.S. Most of them fail. However, the few that succeed go on to employ real people and further develop the economy. Unfortunately, I have not experienced that type of entrepreneurial spirit in the world of social justice. Moreover, it's my experience that the individuals who want to create a different world often lack the practical skills to execute an alternative.

I challenge those of us from disenfranchised communities to rethink capitalism. How can we redefine it to serve the needs of our communities? Everywhere there is injustice, you'll also find inefficiency. In practical terms, this means that the current systems that marginalize people are wasting precious human capital that can be used to make our communities better. More importantly, can you spot the injustices in your community and use market mechanisms to change the flow of resources?

I challenge new leaders from our communities to take a look at the tools the business world has to offer, while still maintaining their commitment to justice.

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