These are the kinds of evenings that inspire. They inspire you to continue along the path that you are on and reiterate that intelligent, highly motivated people from a variety of sectors share the common goal of social entrepreneurship. On March 8th, the Social Enterprise Dragons event brought together members of Vancouver’s social enterprise community and those who believe that social entrepreneurship is the way forward in building healthier societies.
The event, held at the SFU Woodward’s campus in Gastown, was emceed by Mike Rowlands (client lead at Junxion Strategy) and Pamela Chaloult (Managing Director at Renewal). Pamela opened the night by acknowledging the traditional territories of the Coast Salish First Nation, a geographical area that includes Vancouver. She then recognized International Women’s Day, which was met with an enthusiastic reception. The judges were then introduced. They were Jon Morris (President of JDQ Systems), Michael McCarthy (Telus VP, Small and Medium Business – BC), Janet Austin (CEO, Vancouver, YWCA) and Lorne Burns (Partner, KPMG).
The format of the event was a ten-minute presentation by each prospective social entrepreneur followed by a Q&A from the Dragons.
The first enterprise to present was the Vancouver Native Housing Society. This group aims to provide safe, secure and affordable housing for Aboriginals living in urban centres. They help youth, seniors, those with addictions, the homeless, and those at risk of homelessness. The VNHS recognized a few years ago that funding from government was going to end in 2019 and that they would need to find alternative sources of income to fund their work. As a result, they began to develop a sustainable strategy to raise funds and decided to do this by selling authentic Aboriginal art. Non-Aboriginals sell 90% of Aboriginal art and they hoped to flip this statistic. Their plan was to create a “fair trade” for authentic Aboriginal art and to sell it in the new art centre in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. The social impact would be felt on artists and on the housing initiative. The Dragons were impressed by their strategy but felt they lacked the backend support to run the organization. As a result they received $10,000 in consulting hours and $2,500 in cash.
The Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society was the next social entrepreneurial organization to pitch their idea. As their name suggests, they offer higher education focusing primarily on undergraduates, Masters students and some PhDs. They aimed to diversify resource and tourism dependent communities by offering them another income source from education. The HGHES aimed to offer students “the best learning experience in the world supported by communities.” This means that the holistic learning experience involves talks with elders, learning about natural healing plants and engagement with the communities. It also offered high school students of the Haida Gwaii to look up to post-secondary students and see that real opportunities exist. The Dragons were blown away by the potential of the project and asked the Society to engage more stakeholders in order to try to generate even more revenue streams. They received $2,500 cash to further develop this visioning exercise and $5,000 in consulting hours from Junxion Strategy.
The final organization to present was EMBERS staffing services. Their business is centred on getting people from difficult circumstances back on their feet and back to work. They pride themselves on screening and supporting their workers well and paying them higher than average industry wages. Their goal is to transition people into a first job so that they can develop the financial and reputational capital to get full time jobs. As much as their work is rewarding and has a high social impact, they struggle with the fact that they were primarily involved in staffing the construction industry (highly cyclical) and that they have only a tiny portion (0.4%) of the market. As such, they were looking to expand by diversifying into white collar and warehousing jobs but needed the support to do so. The Dragons were impressed by their presentation and the social impact that it provided so decided to give them the biggest portion of the prizes. They believed that EMBERS needed funding to expand through a comprehensive marketing strategy and for this they received $10,000 in cash and $5,000 in consulting hours from KPMG.
In the spirit of social entrepreneurship, the Dragons left some funding to go to the runners-up of the event. Ten thousand dollars in consulting services from JDQ and ASQ will be distributed by Enterprising Non-Profits to the organizations that they feel can use the help the most.
The event ended with a big thank you to all who made the event possible, including the sponsors. SEE Change Magazine was graciously thanked for their support, as well as other worthy organizations that believe in social entrepreneurship. The event left me feeling reassured that there are genuinely good people trying to do the right thing, but it also left me all too aware that there is still a lot of work to be done. Social entrepreneurship is gaining traction through events like these and it is up to those reading this to further support the emerging trend in business.
Julian Harrison is an MBA student at the SFU Beedie School of Business. He is the co-president of his Net Impact chapter, an organization whose goals are to engage a new generation of leaders by putting their careers to good work. His focus is in socially responsible investing, social entrepreneurship and development banking.