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Social entrepreneurs: Heroes in their own right
by Hilary Mandel
on March 04, 2013
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Social enterprise heroes

You might say Heather Johnstone is your typical Vancouver North Shore anthropologist-turned-farmer-turned-social-entrepreneur. Only she doesn’t quite see herself that way. “I’m a farmer,” laughs Johnstone, who’s been managing the North Shore Neighourhood Houses’s Edible Garden Project for the last three years, “not a business person.”


And then she proceeds to casually mention her goal to have her project’s social enterprise, the Loutet Farm, “sustainably self-sustaining within five years,” tossing in words like “break-even” and “profit margin” in the same breath. Despite her protestation, it turns out Johnstone’s got some social venture chops after all.


Those chops should serve her well as she, along with two other talented social entrepreneurs, pitch their three mission-based businesses competitively as selected finalists in Enterprising Non Profit’s Fifth Annual “Social Enterprise Heroes,” to be held the evening of March 27 at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Arts Centre.


Social enterprise central


One part cocktail reception, a splash of tongue-in-cheek reality show, and a healthy dose of serious professional development, Social Enterprise Heroes is the signature event capping a full day of activities dedicated to social enterprise and social entrepreneurship in BC, including a Day of Learning and a tradeshow.


Other finalists in this year’s pitch, which is open to the public, are Tradeworks Training Society and Ktunaxa/Kinbasket Child and Family Services.


Building on past experience


Social enterprise heroesTradeworks, located in Vancouver’s downtown east side, has the distinction of being the only nonprofit to have been invited back to pitch a second time at Social Enterprise Heroes. As participants in 2009’s inaugural competition, they put forward their Tradeworks Custom Products program, which provides women in challenging circumstances with entry-level employment, carpentry skills and confidence, to launch them into careers in trades.


Flash forward to January 2, 2013. Maninder Dhaliwal, Tradeworks’ executive director, had been in her new job for less than one day when she decided to enter Tradeworks’ other social enterprise, the Rona FabShop, into the Social Enterprise Heroes competition. “I saw we needed help streamlining the organization’s message, sharing who we are and what we do in a consistent manner,” she explained.


The FabShop is a social enterprise and training program aimed at helping at-risk young adults learn basic woodworking and job skills and find their way into the workforce. Dhaliwal, who also serves as the FabShop’s interim manager, sees the March 27 event and, even more significantly, the mentoring that is provided to each of the finalists, as “a great opportunity to meet the whole social enterprise community.”



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