Reflections on Five Years as a Social Business

We thought our fifth birthday would be a great time to tell you a bit more about QiWorks, including some interesting information that you might not know about us.

QiWorks is a social business. Did you know that QiWorks is a social business? A social business is a company created to solve a social problem as opposed to make private profit. The term “social business” was first defined by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus and is explained in his books Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism and Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs.

Social businesses are similar to non-profits in that they are driven by a mission to improve society, but unlike non-profits, do not receive grants or donations. Instead, these businesses must generate their own revenues in order to cover costs, pay living wages, and remain financially sustainable so that they can continue to serve their mission. Profits are reinvested into the business itself with the aim of increasing its social impact, such as expanding the business’s reach and improving its services.

Acupuncture as a social business. Lisa Rohleder created the first acupuncture clinic based on the social business model; her clinic, Working Class Acupuncture in Portland, was the first community-style acupuncture clinic in the United States. As Lisa explains in her book Fractal: About Community Acupuncture, she realized that the way to make acupuncture affordable to more people was to return to the way that acupuncture used to be practiced–in a group setting:

Once upon a time–for much of its history–acupuncture was a very cheap therapy, used by poor people. It was practiced in a group setting, so if you got acupuncture, you probably got it in a room with other people who were getting acupuncture at the same time. This changed when acupuncture began to be practiced widely in the West. It became an expensive therapy, marketed to people with a lot of disposable income. Also, acupuncture practice became       individual; if you got acupuncture, you probably got it in a little cubicle.


The solution I came up with was to redesign the business model and to go back to what acupuncture looked like when it was a therapy for poor people. My partner and I opened a clinic in a working-class neighborhood where we treated people all together in a big room instead of individually in little cubicles, and we called it “Community Acupuncture.” It worked. We made a living. Our neighbors got a lot of acupuncture.

That was over a decade ago. Now community acupuncture is a Thing. There are hundreds of clinics that do acupuncture this way and hundreds of thousands of people getting acupuncture who previously couldn’t afford it.

Lisa’s social business model for her acupuncture clinic was the inspiration for Brent and Allison to start QiWorks in 2009.

QiWorks is one of many social business “community clinics” around the country. Like Lisa’s clinic, as well as many others that have since opened around the country, the social mission of QiWorks is to make acupuncture accessible and affordable for as many people as possible, while creating living-wage jobs and a self-sustaining business. Lisa helped to create the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (“POCA”), which is a cooperative of community acupuncture clinics, community-clinic acupuncturists, and supportive patients around North America. QiWorks is proud to be a member of POCA (patients are welcome to join too!). Last year, QiWorks provided more than 8,000 acupuncture treatments to our community. Collectively, all POCA-member clinics provided over 900,000 treatments in 2013. And more community clinics are continuing to open around the country. The affordable acupuncture movement is spreading!

QiWorks then and now. Ever since Brent and Allison first started QiWorks five years ago, we have continued to grow, which means we have been able to provide affordable acupuncture to more and more people. QiWorks started with Brent working five shifts a week and Allison working as business manager. Now we have three acupuncturists–Brent, Chris, and Margaret–who work a total of twelve shifts a week. Our front-desk staff includes Laura, Jani, Casey, and Jackie, who is also the current business manager. We have a fabulous volunteer accountant, Melissa, who helps out whenever we need her. Over the years we have had wonderful friends and patients who have worked here, volunteered here, and have otherwise provided their support, encouragement, and enthusiasm for our mission. Most of all, we have treated thousands and thousands of patients, and have been so blessed to be a part of their lives and healing process.

We are proud to be a social business and to provide affordable healthcare to our community. We sincerely appreciate all of the support, kindness, help, and referrals we have received from our wonderful patients. You are all now a part of the social movement too, and are the reason QiWorks exists and continues to thrive.