Buy With Heart

When Zaid arrived in Rhode Island as a refugee from Iraq, he didn’t know many people, he didn’t know much English, and he certainly didn’t have a job. It was 2008. The massive economic downturn had made it nearly impossible for anyone, let alone someone in Zaid’s position, to find work. Fortunately, through the International Institute of Rhode Island, Zaid met Keith, the co-founder of Providence Granola, a granola company that provides refugees with employment and job-training. So far, Providence Granola has provided jobs for more than twenty refugees and sustained its job-training program through granola sales.

Providence Granola is just one of over 30,000 social enterprises, or businesses with social missions, that operate in the United States. According to the Social Enterprise Alliance, the number of social enterprises in the United States has multiplied by a factor of six since 2001. Despite this growth, many social enterprises lack the resources necessary to expand their consumer base and increase their sales. According to a study conducted by the Social Enterprise Alliance, Duke University, and Commonwealth Ventures, 27% of the 400 Social Ventures surveyed cited sales and marketing as the primary obstacle to growing their businesses. It is unfortunate that ventures with a social impact struggle to reach consumers because according to Cone Communications, 91% of consumers are likely to switch to a brand that supports a social cause if both brands offer products/services of comparable price and quality. In other words, there are many consumers that are interested in purchasing products/services from social enterprises, but existing social enterprises struggle to reach these consumers.

Social Venture Partners Rhode Island, a non-profit organization whose mission is to catalyze social entrepreneurship, has launched the Buy with Heart campaign ( to bridge the gap between enterprises and consumers. The original incarnation of Buy with Heart was an online directory of Rhode Island Social Enterprises. The enterprises were sorted by product/service offerings, and each entry featured a description of the enterprise and a link to its website. This first effort received national attention and requests from social enterprise support organizations to replicate the model.

As SVPRI considered the best ways to scale the Buy with Heart model, it became clear that a more robust platform could more thoroughly address the disconnect between social enterprises and consumers. The next incarnation of the Buy with Heart website will provide consumers access to social enterprises from across the country, enabling consumers to search for products and place orders. In other words, Buy with Heart aims to be the Amazon of social enterprises, providing an online marketplace where consumers can buy products with the knowledge that their purchase is supporting a social good.

The key to Amazon’s success is its ability to enable consumers to quickly compare and order products without having to leave home. Unfortunately for the socially-conscious consumer, current online shopping options do not provide a simple way to make purchases that contribute to a social good. Additionally, finding social enterprises that provide the desired product and comparing products offered by multiple social enterprises is currently difficult, time-consuming, and confusing. On Buy with Heart, consumers can easily search by product, cause, geographic region, and enterprise. Allowing consumers to compare products and social missions of different ventures enables consumers to buy smart and buy with heart.

SVPRI is now working to make the Buy with Heart vision a reality. Buy with Heart was a finalist in both the Pipeline Innovation Fellowship Competition and the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition. SVPRI is currently raising the first round of capital, and the launch of the Buy with Heart Marketplace is tentatively scheduled for April 2013.

The Buy with Heart Marketplace will ensure that Rhode Island continues to be a national leader in social entrepreneurship. Revenues generated from Buy with Heart will be used to fund SVPRI’s programming that supports local social enterprises.

The Buy with Heart Marketplace will provide social enterprises nationally much-needed access to consumers. Balancing the pressures of operating a business with the challenges of providing a social service leaves many social enterprises with limited resources for marketing and expansion. Launching an e-commerce platform is well beyond the capacity of many social enterprises. Buy with Heart will give social enterprises the opportunity to compete in the market and provide a new venue to reach consumers and sell products.

To ensure that all purchases made through Buy with Heart have a social impact, Social Venture Partners Rhode Island will offer an online verification process for ventures interested in selling products on Buy with Heart. The verification process will provide enterprises with a credential that speaks to their social impact and give consumers confidence that their orders are contributing to the social good.

Let’s not forget that entrepreneurs and consumers are not the only people that benefit from social enterprises. Social enterprises are great because of the people they help and the issues they support. Some social enterprises donate a portion of their revenues to support a social cause. Others make their contribution by providing training and work to people with barriers to employment. There are thousands of people, like Zaid, who have been given a chance because of social enterprise. Soon supporting social enterprises will only be a click away.

For more information contact SVPRI CEO Kelly Ramirez at

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