Strengths and interests spark future ideas
Lisa Bailey

With posAbilities just launching its very first social enterprise April 1, business developer Mary McGivern is thinking of ideas for the future.

A former small businessperson with a background in marketing, she’s discovered much about social enterprise through her work with posAbilities. Mary has since attended conferences on the subject and networked with other organizations already operating social enterprises.

She can identify a few trends contributing to the movement to blend profit with purpose.

Organizations, for example, are looking for ways to increase their financial independence.

“Decreasing reliance on government funding is a trend,” Mary says.

“All organizations realize they cannot be so dependent on government.”

By applying business strategies in a social service setting, organizations create an opportunity to increase income that supports the greater good.

PosAbilities’ new social enterprise, Don’t Sweat It, aims to enhance the organization’s mission of full inclusion for people who have disabilities.

Don’t Sweat It builds on existing work experience programs that have established customer bases and provide renumeration to people supported.

The social enterprise employs approximately 20 people from the programs in gardening, home maintenance and recycling divisions and builds on the client base through word of mouth as well as new connections forged in the community.

Another goal is to be a bridge to paid and meaningful employment in the community.

“We’re really trying, for people who have disabilities who wish and are able, to have meaningful employment and be part of society and that’s a trend, where I think in the past a lot of programs were different. And that wasn’t bringing out the best in them. There are real abilities there that you can pull out,” Mary says.

The trend to provide person-centred support is also reflected in social enterprises. Don’t Sweat It, for example, focuses on the strengths and interests of the people supported.

“We want to build on skills, and we hope to establish social enterprises so we play on everyone’s strengths,” Mary says.

Parents of one individual, for example, have told Mary that their daughter loves to bake. With enough collective interest and skill in this field, and a need in the marketplace determined, this could lead to a café or catering service as a social enterprise.

Developing social enterprises with a physical presence in the community, like a café, can also lead to other opportunities such as social networking and developing more business connections.

Excited by the potential for growth, Mary notes that social enterprises, like other businesses, must offer quality and customer service.

She believes, though, that the time is right for social enterprise. She points, for example, to an overall desire to help developing countries such as through investment in micro-enterprises in Africa.

“We’ve got similar issues in our own backyard where we need to create employment for people,” she says.

“There’s a lot more focus, it seems, on helping social enterprises . . . I think generally the world is looking at how they can help others.”

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