Baruch alumnus Mark Goldsmith discusses social entrepreneurship with Field Center

May Khin

Baruch College’s Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship welcomed alumnus Mark Goldsmith to host a conversation as part of its “Lunch & Learn” webinar series on Nov. 2.

In the webinar titled “From Madison Ave to Rikers Island: The Making of a Social Entrepreneur,” Goldsmith shared his expertise on the fundamentals of running a nonprofit organization. After working in advertising for 35 years on New York City’s Madison Avenue, he founded the nonprofit organization Getting Out and Staying Out.

GOSO supports previously incarcerated young men of color between ages 16 and 24 as they transition back into society through employment, education. and mental health counseling. The nonprofit helps 1,000 young men each year in achieving their goals.

The event is named after the book Goldsmith wrote on his experience running GOSO, which is also partially a memoir.

The nonprofit organization focuses on three primary initiatives: education, employment and emotional well-being.

The initiatives help previously incarcerated young men of color to get out of prison, offer education for a GED, job training and job readiness curriculum after they get out for future employment.

GOSO said that 86% of its participants stay out of prison, and 71% engage in school or work. Additionally, 69% of participants placed in subsidized “GOSOWorks” internships achieve full-time employment upon completion.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Goldsmith said he was not a good student. He left Pennsylvania State University to join the U.S. Navy.

After attending a going-away party before he moved to New York City, he hit a cop car while drunk and was arrested. His father bailed him out.

“I can still hear the cell door closing behind me,” Goldsmith said. “Of course had I been of color in NYC, I would have ended up on Rikers Island with a bail that I cannot afford and just as a note in the 15 years in Rikers that I was there, not one guy that I work with ever bailed out. We are finally working on that bail system.”

Goldsmith received his bachelor’s degree from New York University and his Master in Business Administration from Baruch College.

After graduation, he worked for personal care company Revlon Inc., the cologne brand Brut, fashion company Yves Saint Laurent SAS, cosmetic company Shiseido Co. and cosmetic brand Almay.

Then, he launched a bartering and trading company called Inventory Management, trading excess inventory for advertising.

Goldsmith’s wife recommended that he join the “Principal for the Day” program, where he was assigned to The Horizon Academy on Rikers Island.

He asked students if they knew what they wanted to do when they got out and none of them had a clue.

“They were all shocked to hear that the skills they already possessed could get them a legitimate job that they wouldn’t be arrested at,” Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith’s first visit to Rikers Island led him to launch GOSO to help young incarcerated individuals. He said making a profit versus making a difference is what differentiates the nonprofit world from the corporate world.

“The importance of passion in a nonprofit cannot be underestimated, in a business world, it’s different,” Goldsmith said. “You don’t necessarily need passion, you just want to know exactly how you’re going to make money, which is the objective.”

With experience as a businessman from the Madison Avenue advertising world, he took a business approach to the social problem.

First tip on starting a nonprofit. He said it was important to name the agency in a way that best describes the business one wants to be in and to prepare a mission statement.

Goldsmith focused his mission statement on recidivism rates, which is the tendency of a convicted individual to commit an offense repeatedly.

Another step in starting a nonprofit is creating a legal tax entity called 501c3, which allows people to donate and get a tax deduction.

Goldsmith said it’s important for clients to talk to the public so they can advocate for the nonprofit and demonstrate their passion.

He hires social workers who can do therapy with the GOSO participants for their emotional well-being.

Goldsmith shared that finding an office was a major obstacle because corporate offices did not want incarcerated people in the same building, especially near their own workplaces.

“I knew I wanted to be in a community rather than in a big office downtown,” Goldsmith said. “Hiring the right people — extremely important people who you know are interested in the subject matter and hopefully have some background to it so the selection of staff — is very important.”

Goldsmith also said it’s important to spend time with prominent people to talk about the common issues they are passionate about. He was invited to sit on the table with the former U.S. President Donald Trump for the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which Trump signed to allow a number of individuals to leave prison early.

Goldsmith said that in order to succeed, one has to raise money. It costs $15,000 per person to get them out of prison and to stay out. The participants who attend the job readiness curriculum received compensation for attending and money has been effective in keeping them out of prison.