Social enterprise where business meets community
by Angelika Dawson
While many of us may have heard the term “social enterprise” there is no standard definition nor are social enterprises recognized in Canada’s Income Tax Act. Some connect social enterprise to non-profits while others include for-profit businesses in their definitions. The Social Enterprise Council of Canada defines social enterprise as follows:
“Social enterprises are businesses owned by nonprofit organizations, that are directly involved in the production and/or selling of goods and services for the blended purpose of generating income and achieving social, cultural, and/or environmental aims. Social enterprises are one more tool for non-profits to use to meet their mission to contribute to healthy communities.”
Because there is no formal recognition of social enterprise, it is hard to know how many exist in BC, but one can assume that many of the 27,000 charities in the province are turning to this model to raise funds for their charitable work.
Matthew Dirks manages two businesses operated by Communitas Social Enterprises (an arm of Communitas Supportive Care Society). ShredMasters and ValleyRecycling hire and train people with mental health challenges and developmental disabilities, providing a springboard for further employment. Dirks explains these social enterprises use a commercial approach to serve specific social needs. “It’s not profits over people or people over profits,” he says. “Through our social enterprises we can serve people through profits.”
At ShredMasters since May 2015, Stewart Williams lives with depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Today, he is a positive, hard-working person who has learned to focus on wellness and be honest with himself. Williams credits his experience with ShredMasters for making a difference to his mental health. Having meaningful work, structure to his day and being part of a team have been vital to his sense of wellbeing.
“When I get home from ShredMasters I’m good and tired and hungry. It’s a great feeling,” he says. “It is so good here. It makes me want to be reliable and responsible. Having a good work environment and doing well at my job gives me a real sense of pride.”
Ecoworks Landscape Services is a business with both a social and environmental mandate. Ecoworks has provided landscape installation and maintenance services for municipalities in the Lower Mainland since 1993. Their work includes both commercial and residential projects, maintaining and installing landscaping. James Siebert is the director of the company, which is owned by the Mennonite Central Committee BC (MCC BC). “We are a for-profit business, donating profits to MCC BC for their local projects, like working with people who are homeless, with women who have experienced abuse or working with refugees coming to Canada,” Siebert says. “We also apply that sense of social responsibility to our hiring process.”
Ecoworks crews are made up of a mix of experienced landscapers, students, newcomers to Canada, and others looking for work in the field. Management and crew supervisors include certified horticulturists. Siebert says the goal of the company is to provide quality service to those who hire them and they achieve that by ensuring that their employees receive the tools and training they need to do excellent work. “We also want to give people a chance,” he says.
When Devin Wade talks about his experience with Ecoworks, he has nothing but positive things to say. He was hired four years ago and he says it’s been a unique employment experience. “It’s unlike any company I’ve ever worked for before,” he says. “They really value their employees. They’ve done nothing but encourage and support me.”
Today, Wade is enrolled in the Landscape Horticulturist Program with an eye towards certification. He has also had the opportunity to take on a larger leadership role, acting as a supervisor for part of each week, something he never thought he’d be able to do. “I never saw myself as a leader but they saw that in me,’ he says. “Turns out, I really like training people to be good landscapers.”
Both Ecoworks and Communitas Social Enterprises are operated by Christian organizations. Dirks says the life of Jesus serves as a model for social enterprise. “The gospels give us a glimpse into Jesus’ holistic ministry. He cared for the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of people,” he explains. “Social enterprise is a way to invite people into community, to meet them where they’re at and provide them with opportunities to contribute and grow.”
Siebert agrees. “The social aspect of a social enterprise gives us as business people an opportunity to intentionally model the life of Christ not only by how we do our work but by who we hire,” he says. “By giving people a chance, giving them the tools they need, and having them work alongside other staff people who serve as mentors, you’re living out your faith in really practical ways.”
To learn more about ShredMasters or ValleyRecycling visit communitasenterprises.com.
To learn more about Ecoworks visit ecoworksbc.ca.
To learn more about the Social Enterprise Council of Canada visit socialenterprisecanada.wordpress.com .