Reinvesting in our Community

Reinvesting in our Community

< Back to Articles | Topics: Special Feature


Erin Elaine Casey

Social enterprise is all around us. Whether it’s a small business that reinvests a portion of its profits back into the local community, or a charity that runs a business with both human and financial goals for growth, social enterprises play an important role in a caring and inclusive city.

According to the Social Enterprise Network of Nova Scotia, “a social enterprise is a business or organization operated for the purpose of addressing social, cultural, or environmental challenges. The majority of profits and surpluses are reinvested to support community needs.”

“A social enterprise can be anything, do anything,” says Dave Rideout, President and CEO of MetroWorks, an organization that has helped thousands of people overcome obstacles and realize their employment and educational goals. Most MetroWorks clients are dealing with a lack of opportunity or education, a mental health difficulty, involvement with the criminal justice system, or addictions. “Social enterprises contribute as any other businesses contribute. The only difference is that we have social outputs attached to our business model.”

“There’s a lot of buzz right now, but SEs have been around since business has been around,” adds Rideout. “A lot of businesses would like to impact the community, but don’t know how to do that; social enterprises provide a mechanism for them to do that.”

MetroWorks has been around since 1978 and offers a range of programs to help clients upgrade their education, improve their skills and find work in the community. The organization couldn’t meet client needs without their social enterprises: Stone Hearth Bakery, winner of two Halifax Chamber Business Awards; Stone Hearth Café on Sackville Drive; and the Mobile Food Market, which brings fresh, affordable food to 12 locations across Halifax.

“As the employer, we can take a bit more time to work with our clients to make sure they get the skills they need to be part of the broader employment market,” says Rideout. “The bakery, for example, has all the expectations of any business, so the people going through that program have all those same experiences they would have in any business environment. So their new employer only has to focus on job specific skills, because the employability skills are already there.”

About 50 to 60 per cent of MetroWorks clients go on to employment in the community. The more revenue the social enterprises generate, the more people can participate in these life-changing programs.

Brenda Saunders/Todd (“Always a slash, never a dash!” she laughs), is Executive Director of Dress for Success Halifax. An international movement with affiliates in more than 150 cities around the world, the mission of Dress for Success is to promote the economic independence of women by providing work-appropriate attire, a network of support and career development tools.
In addition to helping women look and feel ready for that all-important job interview and their first weeks of work, the organization offers programs to support job retention and career growth.

“It’s putting women into the workforce so they have financial independence,” explains Saunders/Todd. “At the end of the day, it’s so they can put food on the table for their children and pay taxes. Providing women with work-appropriate attire levels the playing field. If all they own are track pants or jeans, it doesn’t matter how skilled or smart they are, they won’t get through the door.”

Dress for Success accepts donations of gently used professional clothing, but not all donations are work-appropriate. “I use the example of a brand new sweater that came in with a $300 price tag on it,” Saunders/Todd says, “and it wasn’t interview appropriate. It then went out the door to another charity and I thought: Why are we doing this?”

The Social Boutique was born. Located 936 Bedford Highway, across from Sobey’s, the boutique opened in 2016 and sells high quality pre-loved and new clothing at great prices. The boutique is 100% volunteer run and all proceeds go back to Dress for Success programs. This has been transformative, because Dress for Success doesn’t get any other funding. Their 3,000-square-foot space is donated by landlord Larry Swinemar and Saunders/Todd emphasizes that the Social Boutique couldn’t have achieved its “phenomenal success” without him.

The benefits extend far beyond revenue. A roster of 27 volunteers runs the store, many of them women who want to re-enter the workforce themselves. “It’s a triple win: for us, for you the shopper and for the women we serve.”

The triple win is a common theme with social enterprises and the organizations they benefit. Louis Brill is Executive Director of Prescott, an organization in Halifax’s North End that’s been around since 1961. It supports 160+ adults with an intellectual challenge by helping them develop life and work skills and find jobs in the community. Social enterprises including a bakery, canvas bag manufacturing, mailing service and online auction play a key role in meeting Prescott’s goals.

“Our product is building people, helping them grow and live better lives,” says Brill. “We look at each person as an individual and help them become more independent.”

According to Brill, although the human factor is the most important, social enterprise contributes to the local economy in many other ways. “With the flow of money and the purchase of product and us as a buyer: canvas, food, second-hand products through our online auction. We have staff and clients making money, we pay taxes. There are all kinds of ways we help the cycle of money flow in the city.” Prescott also employs more than 40 people and is one of the largest employers in the North End.

“We’re learning more and more about what people are capable of doing,” adds Brill. “Our clients have a strong desire to work and we’re going to work to find the right niche so we’re adding to the economy. The general public sees a great value in including everyone and so many business leaders have purchased our products, or hired one of our clients. There’s an understanding that there’s a responsibility to help others in order to have a vibrant community.”

Saunders/Todd, Rideout and Brill agree: Social enterprise is the way of the future and the benefits are clearly not just social. The enterprise part is just as important.

“There’s a misconception that social benefit has a cost attached to it and that social enterprise is more expensive than other businesses,” says Rideout.
“It can be just as competitive as any other business.”

Brill agrees. “There are many people who include the social piece in their buying decisions and this group is growing. We need to remain competitive in our quality and in our pricing to keep that business. I think the vast majority of people would buy from a social enterprise if they’re competitive. Our tagline is ‘Building people; building Halifax.’ As a business in the city we have an obligation to give back. People can work together to get business done and grow the city — we take that obligation very seriously and we engage each of our clients in it.”

Social enterprise just might be the secret sauce to keeping young people in our city. Younger people are looking for more than just a paycheque — they want to make a difference. “Having organizations with social values that they can look at as potential employers will provide them with the opportunities they’re looking for,” says Rideout.

Saunders/Todd sees social enterprise as great option for young entrepreneurs. “Social enterprise inspires them to do something new on their own. Years ago, entrepreneurship was what people did if they couldn’t get a job. Now, there is much more support and it’s the same with social enterprise. It’s a respectable option.”

“More and more young people are making the decision about where they live based on the quality of life and the heart of the community,” says Brill. “When you have vibrant social enterprise and people have the opportunity to help others, it makes for a better place to live.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Special Feature

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