by Read Guernsey

I am very lucky to be a part of the social impact investment circle of Broadening the Base and among such impressive members of Ottawa’s housing community. I hope to have contributed to the group in some small way through my background with social enterprise, formalized in my role as chair of the board of directors of CISED – the Centre for Innovative Social Enterprise Development. CISED is an Ottawa-based not-for-profit that seeks to maximize the impact of the social enterprise sector in the region by raising awareness, building social enterprise capacity and opening channels that foster full participation and integration of social enterprises in the marketplace.

CISED defines social enterprise as an ongoing organization or venture created to achieve a social mission that uses a business model incorporating earned income strategies in its operations. This blend of social mission and business strategy takes many forms. Some formalize the blend through a governance structure where a for-profit company provides a share of it’s profit to a parent non-profit or charity, such as Me to We, which provides half of its profit to it’s parent, Free the Children. Others integrate this blend deeper within the organization, like employment-based social enterprises where the very act of being in business provides meaningful employment and social supports.

I realize I may be preaching to the choir here. Understandably, providers have been exploring business strategies for quite some time now. In September, Housing Partnership Canada released an extensive report on the immense variety of innovative business practices that are employed by affordable and social housing providers across Canada (available here). Whether by establishing a café in a property that offers employment for the residents, or by providing housing development expertise to diversify a revenue stream (such as CCOC), social enterprise strategies offer an arsenal of effective tools for a provider’s toolbox.

I would suggest that there are even more nuanced means of connecting profit with purpose if we focus on the day-to-day operations and the hundreds of choices that a leader and manager must make a week.

Deciding what supplies to purchase, and from whom, is a good example. All organizations need quality and cost-effective resources to support their operations, whatever that may be. Deciding where to buy those resources, then, can be a very challenging task because purchasing with one’s mission in mind means going beyond the familiar and marketed (e.g. Lowe’s) and seeking out the local and community-oriented (Ottawa Tool Library).

Building materials and supplies can be found at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. HighJinx provides affordable furniture, as does Good Day Workshop. Environmental products are available from EnviroCentre and lawncare services from Good Nature Groundskeeping and Horizons Lawncare. CISED has identified over 150 social enterprises in Ottawa alone, clustered around six industry sectors:

  • Recycling repurposing and remanufacturing
  • Arts and culture
  • Food services and agri-business
  • Product manufacturing
  • Real estate development and property maintenance
  • General services

Housing providers are big social institutions, and tend to anchor community causes with their physical and human presence, and also purchasing power. The orders made by a provider, whether lawn care, cleaning products or building supplies, can be a drop in the bucket for a large company, but can make or break smaller social enterprises. Every time someone buys from a social enterprise, there is an opportunity for social change to happen. I encourage Ottawa’s housing providers to reach out to CISED (team@cised.ca) and explore local social enterprises that can meet your social and business needs.