Women Social Entrepreneurs
Social enterprise is way of describing how non-profit organizations have engaged in the trade of goods or services over the past century. Though not really new, the concept has emerged in British Columbia and other parts of Canada as a “new” concept with its own lexicon, leaders, investors, and entire organizations devoted to the exploration and development of social enterprise.
Social enterprise — also known as business with a social purpose — makes up a third sector that is quickly gaining importance in the overall economy in which groups such as Salvation Army and Girl Guides have participated in for decades. Social enterprise is based in sustainability and offers real potential to heal, repair and rebuild from the impacts of globalization, social and environmental erosion, and the exploitation of the earth’s resources for profit.
Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) understands at an intuitive level that social enterprise makes sense. Since the early 1990’s we have been women social entrepreneurs; at first through the marketing of our skill-based feminist counseling training program then later through the opening in 2001 of the My Sister’s Closet Thrift Boutique on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. In 2006 we opened our second location of My Sister’s Closet at 1092 Seymour street in Vancouver. We have grown to fully realize what it means to be successful social businesswomen and we work to ensure that our business model:
- Is consistent with our organizational mission
- Promotes and mentors women-ist leadership
- Fosters women-ist teamwork, collaboration and partnership
- Embraces change, respects what is working, and integrates new learning
- Reflects our commitment to delivering results in this critical area
- Views problems as opportunities
At the beginning, BWSS couldn’t articulate the theory of social entrepreneurialism or describe how it might deliver on a triple bottom line consisting of human capital, planet capital and profit performance objectives (Elkington 1994). But over the past 15 years we have evolved our knowledge and experience as women social entrepreneurs so that today we can deliver on a BWSS-oriented triple bottom line of:
- Women’s Empowerment and Social Change
- Mother Earth Sustainability
- Financial Freedom, Independence and Long-term Sustainability
We recently partnered with Vancity Community Foundation to assess how well we are delivering on our performance objectives also known as Social Return on Investment (SROI). Upon completion of this assessment process we will publish our results. Some early and positive indicators of our performance returns over the past six years include the following facts:
- 7,200 women have accessed our clothing and hamper voucher program
- 1500 women have used BWSS programs/services to complete their community hours resulting from criminal conviction sentences
- $1,000,000 (estimated value) clothing and household items for given to women in transition
- 20,000 hours of free or affordable skill-based training has been provided to front-line workers
- 5,000 people have attended our training programs
- At any given time over 150 people are volunteering at BWSS gaining valuable work experience, knowledge and skills
- BWSS has diverted tons of “waste” from the landfill
- Our progressive training workshops and programs cultivate social consciousness steeped in women-ist knowledge, Indigenous teachings, anti-oppression analysis and social action
In addition, we promote women-ist leadership across Indigenous, Immigrant women populations, and engage in community development/mobilization and resources/surpluses that are re-invested and allow us to compensate our social enterprise staff with wages and benefits that exceed market rates.
Our innovative program development includes Youth Engagement in Violence Prevention, BWSS Children’s Programs, BWSS Strategic Interventions (a social action and training initiative), with more social enterprises including the pilot of The OZ Project and visioning of The Next Chapter underway. Significantly, all of our innovation is directed at ending violence against women, redressing climate change, promoting social advancement, and working toward systemic changes including the support of front-line workers and non-profit organizations that strive to bring social action into their service work.
BWSS social enterprise is also about leadership and promoting social responsibility through engaging our communities to participate in social change in order to actively diminish the impact of oppression and violence for marginalized people. At our newest retail location in Yaletown district of Vancouver, BC, we see people are eager to learn more about violence against women, and men are eager to shop, donate and become part of the solution towards ending violence against women. We are active members of the Commercial Drive Business Improvement Association, Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and Yaletown Business Improvement Association in order to ensure we can contribute to the business community and extend our influence and leadership.
There is little doubt that social enterprise has strengthened BWSS and raised the social consciousness of our investors, stakeholders, community partners, business colleagues, patrons, donors, women who access our services, volunteers, staff, leadership team and board of directors.
Our Entrepreneurial Pursuits:
- Strategic Interventions – Courage on the Frontlines (community directed skill-based training workshops and programs for front-line workers)
- BWSS Retail Program – My Sister’s Closet (retail store located at 1092 Seymour Street in Vancouver)
For more information about BWSS Social Enterprise or starting your own social enterprise you can email us at: [email protected]
John Elkington in 1994 Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business 1998