photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA

Moms and Jobs

In Lowell, Massachusetts, a bold experiment is taking place that can inspire new ways of doing business in the United States.   Moms and Jobs, or MoJo for short, is a startup company with a mission: to improve the lives of single mothers, more than 25% of whom live in poverty.  The Boston Globe   covered the company in a story this week:

The business pays workers over $10 an hour, provides health care and career training, and — most important for a single mother — covers the entire cost of child care.

MoJo, short for Moms and Jobs, is no big-government spending project or private charity. It’s a for-profit company that sells apparel to campuses, corporations, and consumers with a stated goal to improve the lives of single mothers, who are disproportionately represented among the poor.

MoJo’s business model: Do well by doing good.

MoJo, which has been operating for six months, expects to generate $3.7 million in sales in its first full year of business. The company has already scored contracts to produce jackets for Fortune 500 businesses like Accenture and Morgan Stanley, college fleeces for Big East schools, such as Syracuse, and blankets for the Dave Matthews Band and other musicians under the Red Light Management music label.

By the end of the year, MoJo hopes to open factories in struggling cities beyond Lowell, which was once a thriving textile center. The company plans to bring its model of manufacturing across the country to Detroit, Oakland, and New Orleans, cities where nearly half of single-mother households live below the poverty line.

“We thought that perhaps we could launch a sustainable, for-profit company to attack the root causes and see if we could be successful at building a really big company,’’ said Tom Aley, who cofounded MoJo with his twin brother, Darr Aley, after selling their Maynard software company.

“If we could deliver child-care coverage plus career services and provide a steppingstone for people on or near the welfare line, perhaps we could help provide a more sustainable livelihood and perhaps a chance at a new career. And a better opportunity for the children.’”

Pope Benedict XVI called for new ideas for business models in his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. I showcased several companies who were pursuing new ethical and social benefits as well as profits in my book Think and Act Anew, encouraging others to follow their example.  Now other prominent voices are joining that call, including Michael Porter in his article The Big Idea: Creating Shared Value, in the January-February issue of the Harvard Business Review: “The solution lies in the principle of shared value, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress.”

I urge business leaders and all Americans to read about these new ways of thinking about business.  They offer a glimpse into a possible new future for our nation that harnesses our energy, spurs our creativity, fuels our economy, and breaks the cycle of poverty.