Prior to 2008, Chris' speciality was holding up gas stations (with an unloaded revolver). Now, after 18 months retrofitting public housing for BUILD in Winnipeg, he's a Level One Carpenter.
BUILD is a nonprofit corporation that contracts with Manitoba Hydro to upgrade the water and heating in public housing units. To do the work, BUILD hires and trains local people, many of whom have no employment record, no marketable skills, no high school certificate, and no driver's license.
Thanks to BUILD, everybody wins. The residents save on utility bills. The government saves on water and energy. And the employees? "I never would have been able to do it without BUILD," Chris observes. "Too many things standing in my way. Now it's my turn to give back to my people."
In the same part of town, Inner City Development (ICD) is uses a similar business strategy, but for renovations and new builds in the residential and commercial sectors. In ICD's case, employees can work their way into management and a share of ownership in the firm.
Says Linda, an employee, "When I drive through the North End and see our projects, a feeling of pride just comes into play because the houses are so different from when we first looked at them. Driving by just gives me a holistic feeling of being a part of it."
"Knowing just what the house is made of, and how different it is, and how it's going to help some family … it's just a wonderful feeling."
In Groupe Convex, Ontario's Prescott-Russell County has something like BUILD and ICR, yet different. Convex is not one business, but a cluster of them: a woodshop, a recycler, a bookstore, a café, a packaging plant, a printer, a coffee and spice shop, an outdoor maintenance firm, and a farm labour pool. All employ disabled adults to create goods and services valued and paid for by members of general public. The whole cluster shares a single financial administration.
Jennifer works in Convex's head office. "I am proud of the work that I do. I like the staff. I take part in the meetings and important gatherings with the members and do the administration. I feel really privileged because I am needed here."
Where other companies and agencies might stop at providing work, or training in marketable skills, or addressing self-esteem, or supplying customers with goods and services, BUILD, ICR, and Convex do all four. And a fifth, if we take Chris, Linda, and Jennifer at their word: social integration.
By combining the first four elements these three "social enterprises" create a path into the community for people who otherwise stand on the outside, looking in. They become active citizens.
In Québec, social enterprises like BUILD, ICR, and Convex are very common and effective. For the outcomes they are achieving and the factors behind that performance, click here for a report from the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance.
To learn about procurement policies and how best to develop them, click here.
i4 is an ejournal about Inspiring, Innovating, Inciting, and Inventing ways of life and work that permit humanity and the planet to thrive in this century of unprecedented challenges. i4 is a publication of the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal.