Social Enterprise Perspectives: Managing a Double Bottom Line

Organization: Rubicon Bakery (a Rubicon Enterprises portfolio company)
Location: Richmond, CA (north of San Francisco)

Rubicon Bakery is part of Rubicon Programs, Inc. – a community based non-profit organization that has been serving the Bay Area since 1974. Rubicon is nationally recognized for its innovative programs that provide a comprehensive set of training, employment, housing and support services.

As a business enterprise of Rubicon Programs, the bakery exists to serve customers with high-quality, all-natural desserts as well as to help individuals who struggle against social and economic obstacles such as homelessness, mental disabilities, addiction and poverty. The bakery accomplishes this second mission in two ways. First, the bakery offers work-skill training and entry-level jobs to its target population. Second, the bakery financially supports the non-profit enterprise by contributing all of its revenue, less costs, to the agency.

Brief Description of Summer Projects:
My project was to improve Rubicon Bakery’s marketing with the goal of impacting the bakery’s sales and profitability. When I arrived, I found that Rubicon had been the recipient of many well-researched marketing recommendations (from business school students and consultants) but did not have the resources to execute the ideas. So, I focused on implementing various marketing programs that benefited the organization while also establishing processes and relationships that Rubicon could continue to use after my internship concluded.

What was the most rewarding aspect of your summer experience?

This summer I witnessed how powerful the impact of social enterprise can be. One morning I accompanied Fred, the driver who distributed Rubicon’s products throughout the Bay Area. The purpose of my trip was to learn about the business, meet our customers and see our product displayed against the competition. While these objectives were met, I was truly moved by Fred’s story – how Rubicon had changed his life and had taken him from dealing drugs and living on the street to owning a house and mentoring others. These types of interactions with the people who benefited from Rubicon’s work were the highlight of my summer.

What was the biggest challenge you faced this summer?

The greatest challenge I faced was to create a lasting change in the organization. In order to succeed, Rubicon Bakery must focus on marketing for more than one summer. However, each person in the organization is dedicated to an area of the business and does not have the capacity to take on additional marketing activities. Therefore, for each action that I recommended and each process that I implemented, I had to propose a current activity to be dropped. This discipline increased the challenge of my internship.

What was your background prior to HBS?

In college, I studied liberal arts and prior to HBS, I worked at A.T. Kearney, a management consulting firm, for five years. I had limited experience in both social enterprise and marketing before this summer.
Why did you pursue a social enterprise summer fellowship?
My summer internship allowed me to explore social entrepreneurship and marketing at the same time. I felt that I made real contributions to an organization that was at a critical junction in its development while also learning about my own interests and getting a better understanding about what I would like to do in my career.

What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing an internship/career in this sector?

Do not discount the value of business skills in social enterprises. Prior to my internship, I felt that I would not use my business skills as much as I would if I were joining a for-profit company. However, from my experience this summer, I now believe that to be successful at a social enterprise, one must have a stronger grasp of business as the challenges of a double bottom-line – managing both for income and social responsibility – are more complex.