By JoAnna DiCicco
Philosophy Professor Morton Winston hosted a panel discussion with Trenton-based social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders on Thursday, March 24. The panel, titled “Working for Social Good,” featured four entrepreneurs and a discussion centered on whether or not it is possible to make a living by giving back to the local community.
Two of the panelists currently serve as executive directors for nonprofit organizations. Perry Shaw III works for A Better Way, a Trenton-based nonprofit that provides services to recently released inmates, as well as at-risk youth and family. Panelist Bentrice Jusu established Both Hands: The Artlet in 2011 and nows serves as the executive director of the nonprofit organization, which uses art to transform the lives of teens in Trenton, N.J.
Also on the panel was the Global Vice President of Communications for TerraCycle, Albe Zakes, and the founder and CEO of Solar States, Micah Gold-Markel.
Senior history and philosophy double major Steven Rodriguez, one of many students who attended the event, noted that college students are often forced into a career that is highly profitable, but not necessarily fulfilling because of their student loan debts. As such, he inquired about when these leaders decided that they wanted to pursue something that makes less money.
“If you want to make God laugh, make a plan,” Shaw said in response to Rodriguez’s question. Shaw, who was formerly a prison guard, then explained that he much prefers a fulfilling career over a profitable one. “My worst day (at A Better Way) is better than my best at law enforcement. I love it and I would never change it for the world.”
Gold-Markel offered a different perspective and explained that “profitability is sustainability.” He said his business views solar energy as a vehicle for change.
Junior sociology major Annie Elfers asked the panel where they see their organizations in the future.
Jusu responded that she wants her organization, a place where teenagers in Trenton can go to express themselves through the arts, to be able to exist without her. The main goal is that Both Hands “seeps into the community and does what it is supposed to do.”
Shaw expressed his desire for his father, one of his hardest working partners in their organization, to be able to receive a paycheck that is at least $1, since “he and I have been investing everything we have in A Better Way.” Shaw went on to explain that he has rejected deals offering money and business in other larger cities because “Trenton comes first.” A Better Way is an organization that focuses on helping people who were in prison to re-enter into society, reducing gangs and building up the Trenton community.
Winston inquired how these leaders assess their social impact on their communities.
Gold-Markel said that as a benefit corporation, Solar States is frequently audited to ensure that the company is upholding high standards of recycling and other green practices, as well as fulfilling its diversity inclusion goals.
On the other hand, Jusu said she has personally seen the effects of her non-profit’s work on members in the local community.
“I know we are doing some amazing things,” Jusu said.
Jusu then shared a story of a young girl who was unable to speak in front of a dozen of her peers, but after working closely with Jusu and the others at the Both Hands organization, she is now comfortable enough to speak in front of tens of thousands of people.
With the lack of profits and constant pressure to dedicate their time to better the community, there is no doubt that these leaders have experienced burn-out from the stress and pressure.
“Try to quit, go ahead. If it is really there, imprinted on your heart, you’ll go right back,” Jusu said.