Last week I spent several days in Gibsons BC which is part of a small, rural region called the Sunshine Coast, a 40 minute ferry ride northwest of Vancouver BC. While you expect the small town cliches – everyone knows everyone, only two taxis, life slows down – what you may not expect is to find unique social enterprises.

Here’s a short story about four diverse, high capacity social enterprises you wouldn’t expect to meet on a rainy trip on the Sunshine Coast.

Persephone Brewing Company – As soon as you get off the ferry, you can’t help but stop at Persephone Brewing Company. Great beer, of course. Try their PBC dry stout. If you look past the beer, their impact model runs deep. Spent grain is used for compost. Hops are grown on site. Wastewater is used for irrigation of their market garden. The garden supplies their community supported agriculture program and the onsite food truck. There is an apiary on the farm which creates honey used in a couple of their beers. They host community events, farming workshops, and more.

One of the owners of the brewery is Sunshine Coast Association for Community Living (SCACL) which supports people with developmental disabilities. Several people with developmental disabilities are employees of Persephone in the farm, brewery, and tasting room and they also run a small bottle washing and reuse social enterprise onsite.

When you understand Persephone’s multiple bottom lines it’s no surprise that they were Canada’s 2017 social enterprise of the year.

Gibsons Public Market (GPM) – GPM is a physical hub with a mission to create a vibrant community on the Sunshine Coast. The building is a mashup of farmers market, cafe, grocer, butcher, baker, cheesemaker, chocolaterie, florist, fishmonger, community kitchen, community hall, and marine education centre. Gibsons Public Market creates a sense of place and a sense of community. Here’s an example of their last few days. One day Vancity hosts a retreat. The next day another social enterprise, Urban Matters, hosts their end of year planning. On Friday night dozens of people, to my surprise, showed up for happy hour at the restaurant. The next morning a music group doing a public christmas concert. That night, they hosted a corporate christmas party with a live band.

Colin Stansfield, GPM’s Executive Director (also one of Purppl’s EIRs!), says they are “placemaking.” You’ll have to ask him what that means but here’s a snapshot; in 2018 they hosted 49 free live music performances, 155 health and wellness classes, 2 night markets, 22 cooking classes and over 80,000 visits. This unique social enterprise is part of a movement of people returning to downtowns to build community.

Urban Matters (UM)Urban Matters was created to help communities deliver tangible solutions to help people live happier and healthier lives. Their team works with governments, social entrepreneurs and socially-conscious business leaders to identify, introduce and scale innovations in communities that address complex social issues. They are trying to build solutions to issues that are paralyzing communities of all sizes – the opioid crisis, disability and inclusion, homelessness, affordable housing, and more. Of all places, UM has an employee in Gibsons. So why not choose Gibsons over Vancouver, Kelowna, Edmonton, or Toronto to bring the team together when choosing an end of year planning location?

I (Purppl) was in Gibsons on invite from Urban Matters. UM co-founded Purppl and we incubated inside UM for about 18 months before incorporating ourselves. They continue to support and facilitate our growth through partnership, mentorship, and collaboration. It’s humbling to be a small part of their journey.

Rhiza Capital – Next up on the short trip was Rhiza Capital which is about 20 kilometres up the coast in Sechelt. We met Rhiza 12 months prior on our first trip to the Sunshine Coast and have been intrigued ever since. Rhiza is an impact investment group of companies. Through three different investment vehicles, they invest in Canadian local and social ventures that have a demonstrable intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return. Rhiza is enabling social entrepreneurs to access capital from local people who deliberately are seeking impact though their investments. While these options are becoming more common in large global cities, it is unique to find this type of investment option in a small community at small scale.

Some of you reading this blog may remember meeting Rhiza’s CEO, Brian Smith, at Purppl’s ChangeUP event. If you want to learn more, you can relive Brian’s keynote from ChangeUP here at 56:28 in the video. We have some quiet collaboration in the works with Rhiza; more details coming soon.

Reflections – Trips like this help deepen my understanding of how Purppl can improve social enterprise development and acceleration in communities. It is a constant learning journey to improve our own impact model.

It is inspiring to see established, growing social enterprises operating in very small communities although we have work to do to consistently create the conditions to allow for social enterprise to flourish (take a look over at the Boulder Thesis for Social Entrepreneurs). Social enterprise and social innovation stories seem to overlook what’s happening outside of our metros. Small communities can and are creating effective, stable solutions that can be spread to larger communities.

For profit social enterprises are choosing to directly tackle social issues. Nonprofits are using social enterprise to add sustainability and stability to their long term solutions to community, social, and environmental issues. Employees are starting social projects within the organizations they work for (called intrapreneurship). Funders and investors are seeking impact investments that demonstrate financial and social return on investment. Even governments are sending positive signals that social entrepreneurship is here to stay (take a look at the Cdn gov’t recent $755M announcement).

Despite pouring rain on the coast, social enterprise is having a moment in the Sunshine.

About Purppl:

Andrew is the Community Catalyst and Cofounder at Purppl. Purppl (Purposeful People) is a social enterprise accelerator. We help social entrepreneurs achieve sustainable community, social, and environmental impact through structured coaching programs. We are also strongly committed to building an inclusive community to support these priorities.