Social enterprise: A solution to supportive employment

Albert Einstein is often quoted for his simple recognition that we can’t expect the process that created a problem in the first place to ever be the solution in the long term. I think this applies not just to his scientific models, but also to our social and economic models.
Let’s look specifically to the issue of supportive employment. Pre-COVID-19, the challenges and the obstacles to opportunities to create successful supportive employment opportunities – such as inclusive hiring for Immigrants or on-the job training – were rampant. This issue has been amplified during the pandemic. Many persons facing barriers to employment experience higher rates of unemployment or underemployment, regardless of their potential, readiness and capacity.
My analysis of the source of this problem (per the Einstein analytical model) is that the dominant business model in the current paradigm focuses only on the traditional goals of creating economic returns. As the economist Milton Friedman said, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits …” Within this model, the employee’s role is to contribute to maximizing shareholder profits.
This myopic focus on creating economic capital, rather than human and community capital, points out an underlying barrier to supportive employment opportunities. If supportive employment seeks a holistic outcome of social inclusion and personal well-being for employees, it won’t fit into the current business model.
Searching for a solution
So, if we want to find a solution for supportive employment outcomes, we must look for an alternative business model – one whose core purpose is the creation of supportive employment opportunities.
That business model is social enterprise.
Yes, social enterprises are businesses; they sell products or services in the market. However, they also blend into their business activities a social value, such as supportive employment. They also reinvest most of their profits back into their social value, rather than shareholders’ value.
Social enterprise as a solution
In Canada, almost all social enterprises are incorporated as or work within the framework of a non-profit or charitable organization. Supportive employment social enterprises represent many different business products, from catering to construction, from cleaning to couriers, junk removal to laundry, printing to pest control.
Supportive employment goes across every possible situation – youth, physical challenges, mental health, developmental disabilities, formerly incarcerated, addiction recovery, and so many others. These businesses include a wide array of position types and levels of experience, from entry-level positions and professional positions, employing skilled carpenters to training cooks, transitional positions to permanent roles.
Social enterprises are everywhere, from remote Labrador to downtown Toronto, from St. John’s, NL to Victoria, BC. Just scan the Buy Social Canada Certified Social Enterprise Directory for examples from across business models, a spectrum of social value outcomes and all across the country.
Social enterprise stories
Here are a few stories of how social enterprise becomes another tool for supportive employment goals.
EMBERS in Vancouver provide staffing solutions to the construction industry. They compete with the traditional day labour services, but rather than just using their employees as a commodity to sell, they provide supports, from work boots and hard hats to transportation and training.
They compete in the market on price and quality but excel in social value and supportive employment opportunities. They celebrate every time someone moves on to a permanent position. Their mission: “Changing lives through the power of work.”
Eva’s print shop in Toronto provides youth who have experienced homelessness with a supportive avenue to job readiness. Their printing services go to corporate and community customers, but the process and profits are all focused on creating opportunities for youth. “When you print with us, you help prepare youth experiencing homelessness for employment in the graphics and print sector,” the Eva’s website states. “We reinvest every dollar of profit into shelter, food, caring support, and basic needs for homeless youth at Eva’s.”
DASC in Dartmouth, NS, provides buttons, packaging and distribution to a broad group of corporate customers. As they say in their promotional material, “We are specialists in the performance of labour intensive, hand-oriented work.” And they blend their business services with their mission “to support the being, belonging, and becoming of adults with intellectual disabilities.”
Join us for a webinar series co-hosted by CERIC and CASE and presented by David LePage of Buy Social Canada to learn more about social enterprise as a solution to supportive employment. In the three-part series starting March 17, we will explore how social enterprise can be used as a tool by career practitioners and employment agencies to create social value through employment opportunities that contribute to healthy communities. 
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