Photo Credit Jan Garrison
Social enterprise model
December 5, 2018

How do you determine if a business venture is successful?

Alex Kurrelmeier, the director of The Ron Rubin School for the Entreprenuer at Culver Academies, told students during a special Friday, Nov. 30, class to look for the “One Metric That Matters.”

For STREETS International, a social enterprise with non-profit headquarters in the United States and its schools/businesses in Hoi An, Vietnam, that metric of success is the rate in which the program’s students are hired after they graduate.

A remarkable 100 percent of the students have been hired within 18 days of graduation over the past three years. Specializing in training young people for the hospitality, tourism, and restaurant industries, STREETS graduates have been hired by the top resorts, hotels, restaurants, and tourism organizations throughout Vietnam, Southeast Asia, and Europe.

Neal Bermas, the founder and chairperson of STREETS International, spoke to The Rubin School and Leadership students at the invitation of former director Harry Frick, who saw a CBS 60 Minutes segment on Bermas and STEETS.

Neal Bermas with members of The Rubin School class.

Bermas said STREETS is a social enterprise, integrating both business and philanthropy. The United States headquarters is the fundraising arm and the Vietnam side actually operates under a business model. The organization operates the STREETS Restaurant Café, Oodles of Noodles, and market tours/cooking classes, using trainees to run them.

Many of the past graduates are now making more money than many Vietnamese MBA graduates, he added. Their skills and knowledge are that highly valued in the region. It is a remarkable transition since most of them are disadvantaged, orphaned, trafficked, and out-of-school when they arrive at the institution.

STREETS provides them with a place to stay, meals, medical services, and a free bicycle while they are going through their professional level training and apprenticeship in culinary arts and hospitality service, life skills training, and English classes. Knowing how to speak English is especially important in the Asian and European hospitality industry, he added. They keep the bicycle after graduation.

STREETS has been successful enough that it has been profiled in several major newspapers and magazines, and featured on television. There also is interest in either expanding STREETS or using its social enterprise platform in other locations, Bermas said.

A social enterprise is different from businesses that donate one item for every item purchased, he said. STREETS develops and follows a budget. The students take classes while working. Following graduation, they serve as apprentices. They are treated as employees and receive a stipend for their work. In many cases, they are not only supporting themselves but their families as well.

Bermas added that operating as a business in Vietnam is actually easier in some ways than working under a non-profit license. As a non-profit, STREETS would have to follow the Vietnamese guidelines for teaching English. As a business, it can teach English as part of its overall employee training, which the Vietnamese government doesn’t regulate.

And, he said, even though STREETS is a social enterprise, between the donations and the money it takes in through its businesses, it does turn a profit.

“We are making a profit,” he said, “so we can make a difference.”

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