Social enterprises are fascinating businesses. We purposely hire people without work experience, without a Grade 12 diploma, without driver’s licences and without hope of meaningful work.
We sell goods and services like other businesses, but because we hire people who might otherwise end up incarcerated or on social assistance, we also achieve a valuable social impact, which saves governments money.
When governments contract social enterprises, it’s called social procurement. To understand the benefits, assume for a minute you want to remodel your kitchen. In the process of getting quotes from contractors, you discover an innovative and trustworthy contractor that will also remodel both your outdated living room and kitchen for the same price. Which would you choose?
The more work we have, the more social impact we make. New skills and confidence help our co-workers gain access to private-sector employers.
I recently visited Scotland to learn about its approach to social procurement. Scotland now boasts 5,600 social enterprises, and half of these hire people who have barriers to employment. I visited Haven Recycling in Glasgow, which hires ex-convicts to recycle electronics. I was amazed to learn Haven’s main customer is Police Scotland. It seems so civilized that police are procuring in a way that reduces crime and its associated government expenditures.
In Winnipeg, the city recently completed a $220-million police headquarters downtown. Had social enterprises completed just 10 per cent of that work, we would have been able to train and hire 350 Winnipeggers who have barriers to employment.
The Manitoba government has bought in. Its 2017 throne speech listed social procurement as a main strategy to producing better outcomes and making government more affordable. Manitoba Housing hires us to do drywalling, painting, cleaning, pest control, and kitchen and bathroom renovations.
The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce has advocated for us in its policy platforms. In fact, two social enterprises recently won Spirit of Winnipeg business awards at the chamber’s annual awards gala.
Sheila North, former grand chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, has called for social procurement as part of her innovative 10-point economic development strategy.
The federal government is also moving quickly to engage social enterprises across the country.
The long list of municipalities that have policies to buy from social enterprises, or plan to introduce such policies this year, includes Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon and Toronto. It’s time for Winnipeg to join this list.
The city recently negotiated a mattress recycling pilot project with Mother Earth Recycling. This partnership demonstrates how the city and a social enterprise can work together to save the city money while also protecting the environment. Let’s build on this momentum and grow these pivotal partnerships.
Mayor Brian Bowman and city council have the opportunity to stand with other municipal leaders and engage further with these enterprises that have been called "government cost-cutters." It seems like an obvious choice in a city plagued with high crime rates, high levels of poverty and a stubborn meth epidemic.
Winnipeg needs real solutions to its social challenges. The social enterprise sector offers that.
Shaun Loney is the author of An Army of Problem Solvers: Reconciliation and the Solutions Economy and The Beautiful Bailout: How Social Innovation Will Solve Government’s Priciest Problems. He has co-founded six social enterprises in Manitoba, including BUILD, Purpose Construction, Aki Energy, Aki Foods, Encompass Coop and the Social Enterprise Centre.