In the late 1990s, Aspire was the model of British Social Enterprise. Founded by two recent Oxford University graduates, Paul Harrod and Mark Richardson, Aspire employed homeless people in a door-to-door catalog business that sold fairtrade products. By 2001, the company was doing $1.6 million in business, and was one of the first social enterprises in the United Kingdom to expand through franchising.

Politicians, funders, and the press were overflowing with praise. Prime Minister Tony Blair...

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