Building and Belonging

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.

Dig Deeper

BUILD, ICD, and Convex have a lot more in common, both in terms of "success factors" and uncertainties:

  • Each is led by a committed and qualified social entrepreneur. But s/he might not be there forever. What then?
  • Each has paying market for its goods or services. To capture that market, each had to decide how much to profile the quality of its goods or services, and how much to profile the social integration it achieves.
  • Each depends to some extent on partners for facilities, recognition, and/or volunteers. Each of those supporters has its own needs and expectations to meet - and they can change.
  • Each draws on a workforce from the immediate vicinity, but blends them in different ways with trainers and co-workers. Sometimes, the workers stay and grow within the enterprise; sometimes, they are intended to move on to employment in the private sector. (Some of BUILD's graduates now are advancing their carpentry careers at ICD.)
  • Each relies on federal or provincial government programs to cover some of the costs of doing this business. Another means by which governments (and the private sector) can lend support to these enterprises is through procurement policies.

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.

For details on the creation and development of social enterprise in general, click here to download the free book, Building Community Wealth. (Aussi disponible en français.)

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.

Photos of Chris, Linda, and Jennifer courtesy of BUILD, Inner City Development, and Groupe Convex, respectively.



How about we start considering great building practises like using hempcrete?

Hemp shiv/Lime/Water = breatheable, neg. carbon, stronger then concrete at 1/6th of the weight (petrifies over time), good R-value...the word needs to get out there.

Hemp can be used for so-o-o-oooo many things.