It is a tried-and-true model: an "incubator" building with shared office space that cuts overhead and provides a creative community where business entrepreneurs can learn from and be inspired by each other.
Could the same work for social entrepreneurs?
In fact, it works quite well in many cities.
The Kentucky Conference for Community and Justice wants to create such a place in Lexington.
Within five years, the KCCJ hopes to have perhaps 20,000 square feet of shared work and meeting space near downtown for emerging non-profit organizations and entrepreneurs interested in making the world a better place.
The organization has a non-binding letter of intent to put the facility in the Old Pepper warehouse, a cavernous building on Manchester Street that is planned as a focal point of the Lexington Distillery District.
"When people come together, you have the space between where so much can happen," said KCCJ Chair Shannon Stuart-Smith.
KCCJ has been developing the idea for two years in cooperation with other local groups. But the effort was jump-started late last month when a delegation visited the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, Ontario, one of North America's most successful social incubators.
Located in a renovated industrial building, the Toronto center rents desks, telephones, printers, Internet connections and other modern necessities to social-oriented entrepreneurs, companies and non-profits that have fewer than five workers.
The center also fosters an atmosphere — both physical and psychological — that encourages networking, brainstorming and collaboration. That includes everything from informal conversations between desks to planned events, such as twice-weekly "salad club" meals.
That atmosphere is what KCCJ hopes to replicate in Lexington.
"The tenants didn't think of themselves as tenants; they thought of themselves as partners in the program," said jeweler Joe Rosenberg, a KCCJ board member. "What we're hoping to do is take what they've learned and build on it.
"There's no doubt in my mind that once you put this together, you'll fill it up," Rosenberg said.
Debra Hensley, an insurance agent and former Urban County Council member who has been working on the idea for several years, estimates there are 100 fledgling organizations and entrepreneurs around Lexington whose mission involves social and environmental issues. Many work out of their homes, or in isolated offices.
"Within 10 minutes, I thought, this is what I'm looking for," said Jason Delambre — a young, Lexington-based, sustainable-energy consultant who went with the group to Toronto.
KCCJ, which started as a chapter of the old National Conference of Christians and Jews, has worked for decades to fight discrimination and promote human equality and inclusiveness. The organization sees creation of a social incubator as perhaps the best way it can contribute to future progress in Kentucky.
The next step involves figuring out how to raise $1 million to $5 million to build the space and develop a business model to sustain it, Hensley said. Similar centers in other cities have a variety of financial models, depending on local circumstances.
"We're making a tremendous leap with this project," said longtime member Marilyn Moosnick.
But then, the work of the Kentucky Conference for Community and Justice has always involved making tremendous leaps. Perhaps that's why it has been able to do so much good.