Turning Lives Around in Manitoba

April 29, 2015

Creating fair work opportunities for people who have barriers to employment is an important issue facing all of Canada. Manitoba has been a national leader in the development of social enterprises that provide training and employment opportunities for people with barriers to employment. The provincial budget, to be released Thursday, is a key opportunity for Broadway to bolster its support for these innovative enterprises.

Ottawa recently sparked sizeable outcry by indicating its intentions to end a 30-year contract for paper disposal that would have seen the layoff of dozens of people with developmental disabilities. Media attention helped halt the decision, but it sparked an important conversation about the power of government purchasing to support employment opportunities for citizens often marginalized by the labour market.

Employment is more than a paycheque. For many people, it is a key source of self-esteem, social networks, education and dignity. For our communities, it is essential for social inclusion and poverty reduction.

Social enterprises are businesses operated by non-profit organizations that create both social impact and income. Like any business, social enterprises must provide goods or services that meet consumer demand and need. As non-profit organizations, they must generate social value as well, and profits must be reinvested into the organization’s mission.

The social-enterprise model offers the powerful potential of addressing social and economic challenges using existing government and private sector spending. By purchasing from social enterprise, government and private business can meet social and economic goals while receiving the quality goods and services they need.

The return on investment of purchasing through social enterprise is profound: Reductions in crime, savings in health-care costs and reduced strain on our social assistance systems for individuals otherwise left out of our job markets and communities.

For close to a decade, Manitoba Housing has been hiring social enterprises such as BUILD and BEEP for cost-reducing energy retrofits and apartment-unit maintenance. They provide supportive training and employment opportunities for individuals with barriers to employment, such as a lack of a Grade 12 diploma, language barriers or a criminal record.

Another example is ImagineAbility a social enterprise that provides packaging and assembling services along with meaningful employment to more than 200 people with intellectual disabilities. Diversity Food Services provides sustainable food services to the University of Winnipeg while providing good jobs and ownership opportunities for the community.

Manitoba is building momentum. Over the last year the Province of Manitoba partnered with the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet) to produce the Manitoba Social Enterprise Strategy, a community-led collection of recommendations to strengthen job creation for people with barriers to employment.

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce’s most recent municipal election campaign, BOLD Winnipeg, ambitiously set a goal of making Winnipeg “Canada’s undisputed social-enterprise capital.” The Winnipeg Police Service is working with CCEDNet and the City of Winnipeg to find ways the city can purchase some of its goods and services from social enterprises creating jobs for people who have been involved with the justice system, thereby reducing crime.

While we have accomplishments that merit celebrating, there is much opportunity in the province’s budget.

The Manitoba social-enterprise strategy will remain merely words until it gets funding for social enterprise, including long-term purchasing contracts, to ensure Manitoba continues as a national leader in these innovations. Together, we can ensure our vulnerable citizens have access to meaningful training and employment opportunities, and taxpayers receive this lucrative return on investment.

Originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on April 28, 2015

Darcy Penner is a Social Enterprise Policy & Program Co-ordinator with the Canadian CED Network. He has been working in community economic development since graduating from the University of Winnipeg with a BA (Honours) degree in Politics. Starting at CCEDNet in 2013, his role has seen him work with member-organizations to pursue a broad policy agenda through workshops, presentations, budget submissions, policy papers and community-organizing, while specializing in supportive social enterprise policy and research – including coordinating the Manitoba Social Enterprise Sector Survey and the Manitoba Social Enterprise Strategy being co-created with the Province of Manitoba. Darcy was also a contributing author to the Alternative Municipal Budget for CCEDNet-Manitoba.

David LePage is a member (and past Chair) of CCEDNet’s Policy Council.  He is a Principal with Accelerating Social Impact CCC, Ltd. (ASI), one of Canada’s first incorporated social purpose hybrid corporations. Through ASI David provides direct support and strategic advice to blended value businesses, social enterprises and social finance developments. He is involved in multiple public policy initiatives and research projects to support the social enterprise ecosystem across Canada. ASI is a partner in launching and building the Buy Social Canada campaign.  He is the former Team Manager of Enterprising Non-Profits, where he led the effort to expand the enp social enterprise development and training model across Canada. He initiated Canada’s first Social Purchasing Portal in 2003.