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Social Venture Partners Tackle Inequality Gaps

If you’re looking for one end of the economic inequality scale, you’ll find it right in Westport. The opportunities available here are vast — and astonishingly greater than those found just a few miles away, in places like Bridgeport.

But if you’re looking for organizations that address that gulf, you’ll also find them in Westport.

One that flies far below the radar — but has an outsized, and growing impact — is Social Venture Partners Connecticut.

Based at the Innovation Hub in Saugatuck, the state chapter is one of 43 such groups in the US and abroad. First formed in Seattle by Microsoft executives, Social Venture Partners harnesses the talents of volunteers — community leaders, philanthropists and entrepreneurs — to bridge yawning opportunity gulfs.

And if there are 3 things Westport has plenty of, it’s community leaders, philanthropists and entrepreneurs.

Of Social Venture Partners Connecticut’s 72 “partners” — their term for volunteers — 1/3 are from Westport. They contribute money to a grant-making pool. Funds are then awarded to innovative local groups that address 2 key elements of the inequality gap: education and workforce development.

But SVP’s partners do much more than give money. They also donate time, energy and expertise.

And if there are 3 things Westporters have, it’s time, energy and expertise.

Well, maybe not time. Still, they manage to find it.

Mark Argosh

Mark Argosh is executive director of SVP Connecticut. He’s got more than 30 years experience as a senior advisor, investor and partner to Fortune 500, mid-size companies and non-profits. His passion for community entrepreneurship was honed at Brown University, where he majored in social change; his business chops were sharpened at Stanford, where he got his MBA.

Argosh cites 3 recent projects as emblematic of Social Venture Partners’ power and reach. They piloted a program at NCC aimed at improving the entire community college system in Connecticut. They’re partnering with Housatonic Community College to build a center that will train 1,000 people a year for advanced manufacturing jobs. And they’re working in Stamford to help immigrants integrate into community — and find jobs.

An SVP investment committee evaluates a number of non-profits. The group picks 3 to 5, then donates $25,000 a year to each, for 3 years.

Grants have been made to groups like the Carver Foundation in Norwalk, and programs like Horizons National, a summer enrichment program for disadvantaged youths (coincidentally, is headquartered in Westport).

In addition, SVP volunteers work with those organizations, offering innovative business principles to maximize the impact of the monetary donations.

Argosh calls his 72 partners “an amazing collection of people who want to move the needle on inequality. It’s a lot easier to do it together than alone.”

Social Venture Partners is “very un-hierarchical,” he explains. “Anyone can get involved however they want. People take on responsibility very quickly.”

Argosh says that SVP volunteers “get a real sense of meaning. People in this area work very hard. They try to be involved, but they can feel disconnected from the community — their home town, and especially a community next door in need. This is true involvement.”

After working with companies all over the world, Argosh says “this is the best job I’ve ever had. It’s the most fulfilling too. Every single thing we do helps individuals and non-profits directly.”

He welcomes new SVP partners. To learn more about the Connecticut chapter, click here. For the national organization, watch the video below.

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