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Partnering for Business (for PENDERGAST and Associates)

By Robin Dorman (

Kim Hill is more than a message-bearer, more than a model employee, offering herself as a witness because of her clarity. Hers is a voice from the outside as someone who has been licked by the flames of misfortune. And like a volatile new chemical element which is capable of transforming a stable compound, people whose lives have been transfigured are often stirred to a kind of evangelical fervor. A former welfare recipient and single mother of two children, and now a receptionist and secretary at Cal Insurance upon whom her co-workers desperately depend, Hill believes we must throw away our precious assumptions about people on welfare. "I have been told that I don't look like someone who would be on welfare. What exactly does that mean? That I've covered up my third ear? I have heard people say that most welfare recipients really enjoy being on welfare and have no interest in working. I have been told that now that I have a job I am a productive member of society. What was I before when I was holding down odd jobs, raising two children, volunteering, and desperately trying to make ends meet?" she asks with an urgent indelible conviction. Sometimes there is a moment of grace, and the thick cloud of clichés hugging the ground clears.

The San Francisco Small Business Network (SBN), representing twenty-one member organizations spanning nineteen-thousand small businesses, has demonstrated an ardent desire to jettison assumptions and create one of the most innovative and bold partnerships in the nation, combining a mogul's long view with a small business's sense of competition and the bottom line. The Job Network, a welfare-to-work collaboration developed by small-business owners in response to the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, will provide two-hundred jobs to TANF welfare recipients in seventy-five small businesses belonging to the SBN over the course of the next twelve months. The SBN, with its singular status as the country's only business organization based upon the ideal of illumining diversity, in a city distinguished by its exuberantly cosmopolitan, pluralistic, and polyglot makeup, embodies the daring and global vision of its founders: Scott Hauge, president of Cal Insurance and champion of the Job Network, Eliott Hoffman, vice-chair of Mayor Brown's Welfare Reform Task Force and owner of Just Desserts, and Gwen Kaplan, president of Ace Mailing. Also involved in the beginning was Jed Emerson, executive director of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund, which assists nonprofits, such as Juma Ventures, in the operation of market-based businesses.