Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays all! The next two weeks will see me take some time away to rest and recharge, including visits to family and friends. I will have access to email during this time but response times may be longer than usual, particularly over the next few days.

All the best to you and yours, and looking forward to 2015!


Remember that social enterprise contest I mentioned a while back? It wrapped up last week, and between the three campaigns, they managed to raise over $90,000. Given the goal was $10,000 for each project, I’d say that Bridge City Bike Co-op, Good Food Junction, and Saskatchewan Environmental Society (and contest organizer Affinity Credit Union) more than exceeded their goals!

[Full disclosure: As mentioned in my previous post about this contest, Strong Roots Consulting banks with Affinity Credit Union and has done some previous contract work with their Community Development team related to social enterprise, but not on this initiative.]

The idea of a solar power co-operative received the lion’s share of votes and funds raised with $59,000 from 630 contributors. That’s a huge vote of confidence for renewable energy in a province that relies mainly on fossil fuels for power generation: hopefully the result will encourage broader support for this and similar projects, such as Saskatchewan Community Wind, that make use of Saskatchewan’s renewable resources. Together with the $50,000 prize from Affinity, the co-op is well-positioned to demonstrate a more sustainable approach to generating power in this province.

Although they missed the top spot, runners-up Bridge City Bike Co-op and Good Food Junction definitely have cause for celebration, raising $17,634 and $13,767 respectively. Together with SES, they will receive free business consulting and support from the United Way, Unite Digital Marketing Co-op, and KPMG to help further develop their ideas.

Beyond the tangible benefits for these organizations, I hope that this contest demonstrates more widely that social enterprises are making a difference in Saskatoon. Since arriving here just over two years ago, I have seen numerous non-profits, co-ops, for-profit businesses, and volunteer groups use innovative approaches such as the social enterprise model to tackle social and environmental issues: these groups, some of which entered the contest but weren’t selected as finalists, all have the potential to improve our community, and in many cases already are. Affinity is planning a second round of this contest for next year, and hopefully this initiative will encourage more concerted efforts to highlight and support local social enterprises and other innovative projects. If one contest can raise $90,000 and a lot of awareness, imagine what a sustained effort in this field could achieve!

One Connection At A Time

How do we make a difference? How do we address problems that seem intractable? What can one person or even a handful of us do in response to the poverty and inequality we see around us every day? It’s a question that many struggle with: both individuals who want to make a difference, and organizations that help those affected by poverty while also “moving the needle” on broader societal issues that leave people in such precarious situations.

Last week, members of those two groups – individuals wanting to help out and non-profits that convert volunteer time and charitable givings into real impact – came together for a short time, in a way that will helpfully leave both transformed. Two groups of coworkers from the Two Twenty, organized by Carrie Catherine from Shift Development and Greer Tilford, each put in a couple of hours at the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre (SFBLC) last week as part of Giving Tuesday. Unlike most of my fellow volunteers, I have some experience with the Food Bank through working with them over this past year on a Capacity Building Project: this was however my first time volunteering at SFBCL.

[Full disclosure: I’m still currently working with SFBLC on this project: however, they did not pay for my time volunteering last week (else it wouldn’t be volunteering, right?), nor am I being paid to write this post.]

SFBLC strives to address the issue of poverty at multiple levels, including but not limited to the provision of food hampers. For example, they operate a separate Clothing Depot where I was assigned to volunteer. Set up as a small retail shop, clients can fill up a bag with donated clothing and also receive some sundry items like laundry detergent. Visitors to the Clothing Depot pay a nominal fee of a few dollars: according to SFBLC staff, this charge was requested by those using the service when it started (as an aside, beyond one employment-related program that is supported by the provincial Ministry of the Economy, SFBLC does not receive any government funding). By receiving some of these necessities at a low cost, those living in poverty can put more of their dollars towards essentials such as food and shelter. Other efforts by SFBLC aim to move beyond “band aid” solutions and help bring individuals and families out of poverty: these include an Income Tax clinic that ensures clients receive the tax credits and rebates that they’re entitled to, nutrition programs for people living with diabetes, addictions counseling, learning programs that prepare individuals for employment, and participation in initiatives such as the Poverty Costs campaign that advocated for the creation of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan for Saskatchewan.

Returning to the questions that kicked off this post, what difference did a couple of hours of volunteering make? As Carrie noted in her reflection yesterday, the neighbourhood that both the Two Twenty and SFBLC call home, Riversdale, consists of a “complex and interesting diversity”, where someone shopping for high-quality furniture may share a sidewalk and a conversation with a SFBLC client. This stretch of 20th Street West has visibly changed even in the two years since I moved to Saskatoon, with new restaurants and shops opening and new housing coming up in the area as young professionals eschew car-dependent suburbs for walkable neighbourhoods. The new (re-)development brings up the question of how to balance growth with the needs of those who have been here for decades – people, businesses, and organizations alike – and ensuring that all can benefit from the changes taking place.

A great first step is to simply build connections between everyone who has a stake in this neighbourhood and this city. Even a brief experience in volunteering can help break down stereotypes and misconceptions of who lives here and who uses services at organizations like SFBLC, and help us recognize that we all basically are looking for the same thing – food, safety, the opportunity to make a difference for our families and our world – but some of us through circumstances beyond our control have to struggle for what others take for granted. The problems are big and complex, but fortunately the people at SFBLC, the Two Twenty, and in Saskatoon generally are amazingly creative and passionate people who have the ideas and energy to make a difference. So, what can come from a couple of hours of volunteering? Hopefully, a great relationship that will spark change and lead to a more equitable neighbourhood and city!