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Posted: November 01, 2009

State of the State: Philanthropy

Denver event promotes social entrepreneurship

The first step in spreading the word about social entrepreneurship - business helping to address global issues - is increasing the number of people who understand what it means and why it's important.

Especially business leaders.

"When I approach people in academia about social entrepreneurship, they get excited. When I approach people in the nonprofit world, they're familiar with it and who the icons are," says Chris Pelley, managing partner of CIMCO, a Denver-based financial advisory firm. "But when I mention it to business people ... the vast majority get this far-away look."

For the past three years, Pelley has been organizing a two-day series of events designed to create awareness about social entrepreneurship in Colorado. The Third Annual Social Entrepreneurship Event, scheduled for this year on Dec. 1 and 2, has generated interest from government, colleges and universities, nonprofits and business.

Pelley serves as regional leader for the Ashoka Support Network, the largest association of social entrepreneurs in the world. He believes Colorado is primed to become a world leader in the movement, which promotes programs that can become self-sustaining.

"Whether I like it or not, I'm becoming a bridge between nonprofit Greek and business Latin," he says. "Because the business guys don't get this, but without business acumen, all these SE endeavors look an awful lot like just a creative form of a charity."

The program includes a keynote address 11:30 a.m. Dec. 1 at the Denver Athletic Club as part of the Association for Corporate Growth's monthly luncheon series. Peter Kellner, managing partner of Uhuru Capital Management - named one of the "new faces of philanthropy" by Barron's last year - will talk about his firm's efforts to launch entrepreneurial ventures in developing markets.

"There is a broad range of problems, both internationally and domestically, that social entrepreneurship can address," Pelley says, such as reducing child mortality due to malnutrition and creating small business opportunities through microfinance programs.

Closer to home, Pelley offers the example of Colorado businessman Steve Bigari, a restaurant consultant and former owner of numerous McDonald's franchises in Colorado Springs who realized one of the most pressing problems low-wage workers face is transportation. Bigari, an Ashoka fellow, created a program through the nonprofit he founded, America's Family Inc., (www.playabiggerpart.com) that provides a support system for hourly wage workers to help them secure such needs as child care and transportation.

"Here is an astute, enormously successful business guy who is rolling up his sleeves and getting involved," Pelley says.
For more information on the Third Annual Social Entrepreneurship Event, contact Mona McConnell at mmcconnell@cimcodenver.com or (303) 577-8246. Some of the events are by invitation only.

- Mike Cote

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