Over the past few decades, we have witnessed traditional boundaries separating the nonprofit, business, and public sectors become increasingly blurred. Many for-profit firms have broadened their purpose to include social and environmental aims, while a growing number of nonprofits and public sector entities have adopted market-based approaches to advance their goals. At the same time, a new fourth sector of for-benefit organizations has emerged at the intersection of the three traditional sectors (see diagram below).
For-benefits are a diverse class of organizations that share two main characteristics—they are primarily driven by social and/or environmental purposes, and they earn a substantial portion of their income through business activities. They include sustainable businesses, social enterprises, municipal enterprises, community development corporations, social businesses, and a wide range of other models.
In recent years, there has been increased recognition among governments at the national, state and local levels of the fourth sector’s potential for contributing to solutions to a broad array of social, environmental, and economic challenges, from job creation and sustainable economic development to climate change, healthcare, education, social services, energy and more. As a result, a range of new policies and initiatives, such as hybrid corporate structures and impact investment vehicles, are being developed to accelerate the growth of the fourth sector. However, these efforts are often hampered by a lack of adequate data and analysis.
The goal of this conference is to bring together a select group of leading experts and practitioners to explore the fourth sector and its potential for generating economic, social, and environmental impacts. We will examine a range of questions from varying perspectives, identifying points of consensus and divergence, and surfacing opportunities for collaboration and action:
What distinguishes the fourth sector from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors? What differentiates various types of for-benefit organizations from each other?
How does the fourth sector contribute to job and enterprise creation, economic development, and other national and regional priorities?
What policy barriers and other obstacles do for-benefit organizations face? What enabling policies and support infrastructure are needed to address these, both regionally and nationally?
What are the gaps in data and understanding required by public agencies, practitioners, researchers, investors, economic developers and other stakeholders involved in advancing the fourth sector? How can these gaps be filled?
The Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Division of Consumer and Community Affairs
The Division of Consumer and Community Affairs ensures that the voices and concerns of consumers and communities are represented at the Federal Reserve. It has primary responsibility for carrying out the Board of Governors' consumer financial protection and community development programs. It also conducts consumer-focused supervision, research, and policy analysis to promote a fair and transparent consumer financial services marketplace.
The Trachtenberg School in GW's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences is a focal point for public affairs education, research and public service at the George Washington University. Building on a rich tradition of education for public service and on its location in the nation's capital, just a few blocks west of the White House, the George Washington University offers a superior education for students wishing to pursue public affairs-oriented academic programs.
The B Team
The B Team is a not-for-profit initiative formed by a global group of leaders who believe that business as usual – Plan A - is no longer an option. Their vision of the future is a world in which the purpose of business is to be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit. Working with a global community of advisors, The B Team is catalyzing a movement of business leaders committed to addressing the biggest challenges - leading by example in their own organizations while driving initiatives to scale systemic solutions and using their collective voice to speak out in the moments that matter most. Together they are developing a ‘Plan B for business’ to help accelerate the transition to a better way of doing business, for the well-being of people and our planet.
The Urban Institute Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy
The nonprofit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy. For nearly five decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and delivered evidence-based solutions that improve lives, strengthen communities, and increase the effectiveness of public policy. Their objective research helps expand opportunities for all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable, and strengthen the fiscal health of government across a rapidly urbanizing world.