Social Enterprises Tackle Tough Challenges in Kamloops
In the last 12 months the Kamloops Food Policy Council, the Lived Experience Committee, and the Kamloops Music Collective have launched and scaled their social enterprise activities.
The idea of social enterprise is to use entrepreneurship to help put sustainable, long term solutions in place to community, social, and environmental challenges. This is a global trend capturing the interest of people from all walks of life who are seeking to build a more regenerative economy and healthy communities; one third of all startups globally now have social impact embedded into their core mission and activities.
The City of Kamloops took a risk last year to help three local social enterprises participate in a social enterprise acceleration program where they are paired up with Purppl’s local entrepreneurs-in-residence (EIRs) who provide long-term entrepreneurial coaching. The results are starting to show.
Street Paper Creates Employment Opportunities, and A Voice
The Lived Experience Community (LEC) is a collective of individuals in Kamloops with diverse Lived Experiences around issues of homelessness, addiction, abuse, disabilities and mental and physical health challenges. They have banded together to support themselves and their community of peers.
In January the LEC launched The Big Edition, which is a street newspaper that shares a different voice to community events, news, and issues while providing much needed skills training and income for people with lived experience. It’s also an alternative to panhandling. The Big Edition is a local version of a global social enterprise model that’s working in about 100 cities in 34 countries and published in 24 languages. There are about 9,300 vendors globally selling to about 5.5 million readers. This is all part of the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) with the closest being the Megaphone in Vancouver.
In Kamloops we are at Issue #7. The model is simple. The LEC, along with partners and contributors, put together stories, poetry, and art about local and global issues. Some of the content is licensed from other global street publications in the network.
Purppl EIRs, Jonathan Bowers and Mitchell Forgie, started working with the LEC when the paper was at the idea stage. We helped to pull the group together, added some expertise about how to start a social enterprise, and most importantly walk alongside the LEC to help get it off the ground. We shaped and participated in customer discovery to help identify and secure the first customers, helped to build four distinct revenue streams, and helped to identify and secure early partnerships that will support long term stability. Local businesses like the Kelvin Group, Sandman Hotel, Kamloops This Week, and Urban Systems, have committed early as customers and partners.
Six local vendors (members of the LEC) are now trained and sell issues on the street and with permission, within high traffic locations like the hospital and the farmers market. This is common across the global INSP network. Unique to Kamloops, the LEC is selling bulk papers direct to businesses and organizations on long term, predictable contracts. This model has created interest from other street papers in adopting the best practice. Organizations can pay for sponsored content. In addition the LEC does paid work to produce written and visual content for other local organizations like the Western Canada Theatre and the Community Action Team.
Try to put the situation in context. Starting a company is hard no matter what. Think about starting a company when shelter is not available or unstable, you are dealing with the pain of abuse, disability, addiction, mental or physical health challenges, and oftentimes structural poverty. Add this on top of the normal pains of starting a company – limited resources, sacrificing personal life, long hours, lack of sleep, mental health challenges, etc.
The name, The Big Edition, is a subtle but strong callout to the challenges mentioned above. Below is an obituary for Elmer King (The Big E), 1956 – 2018. He died just before the launch of the paper. The LEC is working hard to achieve his vision. LEC Co-Chair, Cynthia Travers, has this to say about it:
“The Big Edition was just a thought in the fall 2017. A small group of people with lived experience had a dream.”
“To put ourselves back to work. To have a place where we matter and we have our say. A way to reach out to all people in and around our city of Kamloops to help share all the hard work, stories, and art. To share the hard truths that weren’t being shared. And a place to get the information needed to enjoy life to the fullest for all.”
“We dreamed of ending panhandling and having hope for a fresh start, a new job, and a new life. We wanted to provide hope for others that they too can start over. It’s never too late for a fresh start.”
“We want to create employment for those who need a chance to pull their lives back together one day at a time.”
“I am so proud of all we have done with the Big Edition. We get better month by month.”
The early wins for The Big Edition are a revenue model that’s covering its costs and is paying honorariums to six vendors from the LEC who sell papers and four others who have received honorariums for their contributions to writing, layout, and design. The vendor role is a dignified alternative to panhandling. In addition the paper creates a voice and enables LEC members to contribute and participate in changing a system that has many barriers to moving out of the cycle of poverty and homelessness.
“The Big Edition has helped me in my social life here in Kamloops. For years people asked me what I was doing. I said nothing.”
Now I can pull a newspaper out of my bag and say this is what I’m doing. It makes it easier for me to talk to other people in vulnerable circumstances because I can offer them and opportunity to make some money too.”
“I haven’t had a job in a long time so this is definitely a very dignified way to return to work and to be a contributing member of the community.”
— David Buchanen
The Big Edition also secured several vendor sites like the hospital, farmers market, and a pop-up site at BrewLoops. These visible, high traffic locations are great for sales of the paper. In the winter months, indoor locations like the hospital also offer a safe, welcome, warm space. Brett, another vendor, has the highest sales by vendor so far (2019). He has committed to selling on a regular basis at the Kamloops Farmers Market and has received a warm reception. In some of his first days at the market Brett has been able to earn nearly $50 per hour in sales.
It takes time to build a sustainable business model and a sustainable impact model. But it’s a wonderful start that has beaten the odds of many startups who don’t have to deal with the barriers in front of LEC members. We have a lot more work to do to help make this a long term success.
You can help by buying a bulk monthly subscription (email firstname.lastname@example.org) for your business or organization which support LEC members being paid for their work. You could also offer a permanent or semi-permanent location for papers to be sold. This paper is a hand up, not a hand out. Let’s make it happen.
Building an Ecosystem to Support Social Entrepreneurs
The City of Kamloops took a risk on shifting their funding and support model for the social sector in Kamloops. It was a courageous decision which is showing some early, positive results.
Local entrepreneurs in Kamloops quickly jumped in to join Purppl’s team as Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs) to help the local social enterprises. Jonathan Bowers, Dan Rink, and Mitchell Forgie each took a lead role. They were supported by existing EIRs like Linda McGrew and the Purppl staff team, Amanda Loewen and Andrew Greer. Kamloops Innovation also jumped in, and continues to support Purppl’s operations and activities in Kamloops. They provide access to space alongside the high quality network of people in the innovation ecosystem.
|Jonathan Bowers is the founder at Two Story Robot which helps create modern web technology for its diverse customers. He’s started and participated in several startups. Jonathan was instrumental in bringing Startup Weekend to Kamloops and deeply understands lean startup methodology.||Dan Rink is the CEO at iTel, his fifth startup, which now has 100+ employees. He’s been building technology solutions since he was 14 years old and really understands how to launch and scale companies. He’s also a co-founder at Kamloops Innovation, a non-profit society which accelerates tech-based startups.||Mitchell Forgie is the co-owner and operator of Red Beard Cafe and Moustache and Go, he’s involved in many food initiatives in the community. He’s also actively involved in BrewLoops as well as a passionate author who has written on fiscal policy to support more inclusive cities.|
Each of the social enterprises joined Purppl’s Scale Up social enterprise acceleration program. In pairs, teams of EIRs met on a regular basis with the social enterprises to help coach, educate, and connect. It is a long term coaching model, not consulting, to help build capacity in the leadership teams of local social enterprises.
Purppl runs quarterly Sip and Social events which are a low-barrier meetup for social entrepreneurs. Anyone interested in social entrepreneurship can come to connect with other like-minded people who share an interest in using entrepreneurship to help solve community, social, and environmental challenges.
In addition, Purppl, will bring ChangeUP to Kamloops this fall. ChangeUP is a pitch style event for local social enterprises to share their story with the community. Community members can come and listen and learn about sustainable business models that power sustainable social impact in our communities. The event has run successfully in Kelowna for the last five years and will launch in Kamloops in fall 2019.
Kamloops Food Policy Council, Kamloops Music Collective, and The Big Edition are three great examples of social enterprise leadership in Kamloops. Many other social entrepreneurs and community organizations are also powering change in the community. Other examples include:
- The Station on Tranquille, a partnership with United Way, TRU, and local developers
- ASK Wellness’s mattress recycling social enterprise
- Kamloops Film Society will operate the Paramount Theatre as a social enterprise
- Big Brothers and Sisters of Southern and Central Interior restarted social enterprise operations and program delivery in Kamloops in 2018
There is a social enterprise movement building locally and globally. Social enterprise is a model that will continue to drive growth in an inclusive, sustainable Kamloops for many years to come.