Mid-Missouri businesses aim to make a difference in their work

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COLUMBIA – The Columbia Regional Economic Development Inc. encouraged business owners on Tuesday to institute practices that benefit the community.

The Catalyzing Social Entrepreneurs event was designed to improve the community through teamwork of businesses and community members.

“I think a lot more people are activated,” said Collin Bunch, REDI entrepreneurship coordinator. “They realize they can do something, they can pull people together and so this is a way for us to tap into that energy, see how we can help support it, make people better business owners in their social ventures, have a bigger impact and connect them to other resources in the community.”

Some attendees are incorporating social entrepreneurship into their own businesses.

“Our part of social entrepreneurship is we help kids be respectful online,” said Joe Chee co-founder of Ukatsu, a youth development program. “There’s a term around this community called ‘digital citizenship’ and that’s what we do.”

Jen Wheeler created the City of Refuge in Columbia and shared her experiences as a social entrepreneur and the organization she started.

The City of Refuge helps refugees and immigrants in mid-Missouri with tasks such as finding jobs, teaching them to drive, taking them to the doctor and helping them enroll in school.

There is also a cleaning service program that is a part of City of Refuge.

“I spoke at the social entrepreneurs event because I am a social entrepreneur,” Wheeler said. “I started a cleaning company to solve the problem of refugees needing work.”

The City of Refuge has served around a thousand refugees over the last seven years. Many people the organization helps arrive with just a couple pieces of clothing and very little money.

Ali Said is an Iraqi refugee, who was a physics teacher for 15 years, before he arrived in the United States almost 7 years ago.

“One day I’m taking my daughter from the school and they shoot on our cars and its good thanks for god we were saved that day, but this is the last day for me. I just came back to the unit I work in the American Army and I told them okay I cannot do more this is the last day for me be because what’s happened. The I just left everything in the night.”

He said the City of Refuge helped him feel a part of the community.

Columbia REDI recently started holding events the second Tuesday of every month in hopes of making social entrepreneurship a focus in the community.