Small Biz Focus: Social Entrepreneurs Weave a Path to Sustainability

This column sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development.

The World Economic Forum defines social entrepreneurs as people who harness the power of market forces and business principles to solve social problems.

Many people around the world, especially young innovators, are striving to disrupt business norms and have an impact on some of the toughest problems imaginable. We know that using innovation and technology for social good has been around for some time.

We’ve been buying shoes that are ‘buy one give one,’ fair trading our product sources, sipping coffee with a cause and buying more shoes in the name of contributions to cancer research. But never before has the world seen today’s growth in social responsibility as a sector that attracts investment.

While the makeup of most social entrepreneurships is one of smart, savvy people helping those disadvantaged, Arlington has pioneered a model that puts a vulnerable population on a path to their own sustainability.

It’s been over 30 years since a weaving program for adults with developmental disabilities, first called The Woodmont Weavers, originated in Arlington. Started by parents who sought meaningful activities for their adult children once they left school, the program, now called ArlingtonWeaves, Etc., is a premier feature of Arlington’s Department of Human Services and run by Service Source, Inc.

It’s a long game for sure and one that emphasizes the investment in the human spirit. Where other social services in the U.S. may be satisfied with keeping disabled adults occupied with simple crafts and activities, Arlington’s weavers learn sophisticated, often complex textile skills while improving their social skills and self-sufficiency.

One participant, now 52, doesn’t speak, but his intricate textiles, knitting and tapestries tell a remarkable story of ability.

Creating intricate patterns on textiles for tote bags, tea towels, yoga mat straps, scarves and more, the studio has now become an artisan hub. ArlingtonWeaves, Etc. has become a vendor to Arlington Economic Development’s Made in Arlington initiative, been featured on regional television news, held center stage in a textile exhibit and taken their place among the most viable of social entrepreneurs.

Shop ArlingtonWeaves, Etc. here:

Studio showroom at Sequoia, Monday through Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and at the Plaza Library shop,Monday through Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

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