Have you visited Inspiration Station yet? My plan for that part of the site is to explore different places from an entrepreneurial point of view. The current locale is one of my favorite places—Venice, Italy. I’ve been thinking about Venice since I wrote the pieces there, so I was particularly intrigued by a story in the latest issue of Ode magazine. 

It’s a short piece about a women’s prison on Giudecca Island, which is a short distance from mainland Venice. The Santa Maria degli Angeli project is a wildly successful enterprise run by the prisoners who have a garden, greenhouse and cosmetics lab. The soaps, lotions and shampoos they produce are purchased by upscale hotels. Not only do the women share in the profits of this business, studies have shown that once they’re released, they tend to become highly production citizens.

Another project that has an even longer track record is San Francisco’s Delancey Street Foundation. Thousands of felons, drug abusers and illiterate members of the community are thriving thanks to this project. What’s their secret? Here’s what their Website says: ” We have pioneered an entrepreneurial pathway out of poverty. We have successfully developed over 20 enterprises run completely by formerly unskilled people using the each-one-teach-one philosophy. We have pooled our resources so that our enterprises have provided about 60% of the funding and growth of our organization.” 

Besides their impressive record of giving people at the bottom of society a new life, what’s fascinating about the Delancey Street Foundation is the kind of businesses they run. They are the largest local moving company in San Francisco. Imagine how much resistance the idea of using former felons as household movers must have gotten! Another enterprise is an upscale restaurant  entirely staffed by ex-convicts. People who come to the restaurant not knowing about their background quickly learn when they read the menu who is cooking and serving their meal. 

So here’s my question: If  the Giudecca Women’s Prison and the Delancey Street Foundation knows about the personal growth rewards of self-employment, why aren’t our schools raving about the Joyfully Jobless option? Free enterprise needs a new press agent.

Being in business is not about making money. It’s a way to become who you are. ~ Paul Hawken