BUILDing Capacity: Manitoba social enterprises retrofit homes and transform lives
Key Innovation Concepts
- Social enterprises challenge us to rethink the notion of profit as an end in itself. What is profitable for the organization must be measured through the lens of a triple bottom line: profit, people, and planet. Otherwise known as creating shared economic value.
- BUILD and MGR recognize that is in the long term interest of their enterprises to generate sustainable well being and health in the community, by providing job training, income, and self-esteem for people with barriers to employment.
- Improving community well being and building capacity in Winnipeg’s north end requires a holistic approach that includes not only employment, but also life skills management, connection with traditional healing and teaching, and peer support and mentoring
By: Ryan O'Connor
Three years ago, Chris Courchene was making a living by holding up gas stations with an unloaded gun. He has since traded in weapons for tools, and now works as a Level One carpenter. Chris’ tremendous turnaround required a great deal of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice, but he didn’t do it alone. Chris is one of many inner-city, low income Winnipeggers who have passed through the doors of Building Urban Industrial Labour Development (BUILD). “[BUILD] helped me change my life for the better so I can help other people like me,” says Chris.
BUILD is a nonprofit contractor that improves insulation levels and installs water saving fixtures in Manitoba public housing units. Together with Manitoba Green Retrofits (MGR), another energy retrofit contractor, BUILD is breaking down barriers to employment and building brighter futures for people like Chris.
From humble beginnings as a pilot project in 2006, BUILD now employs up to fifty staff members, twenty of which are ‘pre-employment trainees’ who receive nine months of paid training. Providing a wage to its trainees sets BUILD apart from most employment training programs, but BUILD’s crew is what makes it truly unique. Aboriginal men living in the inner city make up the majority of BUILD’s staff. Most are on social assistance, and many have been involved with the criminal justice system. “Very few have a grade ten education. None have entered the program with a driver’s license,” says Executive Director Shaun Loney.” The trainees typically come to BUILD with nothing but “a willingness to work and an eagerness to make positive changes in their lives,” Shaun continues.
Not everyone who begins the nine-month program completes it. However, those who graduate leave BUILD with a beginner’s driver’s license, employable skills, and a drastically improved sense of self worth. In addition to hard skills training, BUILD provides its trainees with access to resources such as personal Life Coaching, parenting courses, and evening a cooking class. Shaun has also forged close relationships with local Elders who lead smudgings, sweats, and cultural workshops where trainees can learn about the balance of life and the seven sacred teachings.
To make way for new recruits, most BUILD employees are required to move on after their training program has ended. That’s where MGR comes in. MGR takes on small construction projects, environmental retrofits, rental apartment turnovers, and basic renovations in lower income housing as well as commercial buildings. While the workload is similar, MGR and BUILD do not compete against one another. Rather, the two contractors work closely together. Due to the variety and independent nature of MGR’s work, they often hire BUILD graduates who come prepared with foundational social and workplace skills. Like BUILD, MGR’s construction work is seen as a means towards a greater end. MGR seeks to improve low-income communities by providing additional training, and creating long-term employment opportunities.
“We find the people who want the work, who want to develop skills and improve their circumstances, and then we go and find the work together,” says MGR General Manager, Lucas Stewart.
Having recently won a competitive bid for a construction contract, MGR will soon become busier than ever. This water retrofit contract, awarded by the Province of Manitoba in conjunction with Manitoba Hydro, will involve the installation of over 300 dual flush toilets in low-income households. For MGR, the contract means a full year of employment for one or more individuals who may have otherwise been considered unemployable in traditional labour companies. According to Lucas, the contract also signifies that “jobs can get done while achieving more than one goal.” He claims that by hiring and purchasing locally, MGR “drives dollars directly into the local economy and creates a compounding social value effect.”
BUILD and MGR operate under the social enterprise model. Social enterprises are businesses that are owned and operated by nonprofit organizations, and provide a service for the blended purpose of generating income and achieving social, cultural, and/or environmental aims. BUILD and MGR generate revenue, just like any other business. However, they reinvest their profits in order to pursue their social, economic, and environmental objectives – or, a triple bottom line.
Perhaps most importantly, BUILD and MGR are inspiring a new generation of role models and mentors in some of Winnipeg’s most impoverished and depressed neighbourhoods. Chris recalls, “A couple of people, they’re like, wasn’t that guy a gangster before. Now look at him – he changed his life. If he can change his, maybe I can change mine too.” As an additional benefit, many BUILD and MGR employees gain an appreciation of environmental stewardship and responsible energy usage that they can pass on to their families and communities.
With an entrepreneurial spirit and a mandate to reduce poverty, MGR and BUILD are finding innovative ways to spur employment opportunities, reduce energy emissions, and build stronger communities. Whether renovating a space for a client, or hiring impoverished Winnipeggers, MGR and BUILD are working to create a sense of place and belonging. “There is a place for everyone,” Lucas concludes, “whether you are just starting out, or straightening out.”