Monthly Archives: September 2013

Local Social Enterprise Tours

SE tour bus.jpg

On October 2-4th, 2013, over 1000 individuals from more than 30 countries and speakers from more than 20 countries will gather in Calgary for the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF).  Hosted by the Trico Charitable Foundation, sponsors and partners, that conference has gathered attendees from diverse backgrounds – all dedicated to resolving the world’s most complex and confounding social challenges.

Thrive has partnered with the SEWF to offer behind the scenes tours of outstanding local social enterprises in Calgary. There are so many incredible social enterprises in Calgary that it was hard to narrow the list for tours. The result is a diverse list of social enterprises that offer both breadth and depth to the 100 tour participants. Participants on the local tours get an intimate look at the successes, challenges, and day to day operations of some of our most impactful local social enterprises.

The organizations featured in the tours are (listed alphabetically):

  • Calgary Counselling Centre
  • Cerebral Palsy Collection Crew
  • Community Wise Resource Centre
  • Cookies on the Go
  • cSPACE Projects
  • EthniCity Catering
  • Fireworks Cooperative (Venu 1008 & Desktop Catering)
  • GE Innovation Centre
  • Habitat for Humanity Southern Alberta ReStore
  • Momentum Community Economic Development Society
  • REAP Business Association
  • Studio C
  • Vecova Social Enterprise
  • Women In Need Society

The tours have sold out. However, media are invited to visit some of the social enterprises on the tours and can contact Thrive at 403-993-6787 to coordinate a visit.

Like any entrepreneur, social enterprises should be ready to screw up


Written By Studio C

Ever enjoy a Hershey’s Kiss, Oh Henry, or a Jolly Rancher?

You may know that they’re all Hershey products. You probably don’t know that Milton Hershey had three candy businesses fail before becoming successful in the chocolate business. When he did amass a fortune, he gave it away to orphaned children and his workers, in perhaps the very first precursor of a social enterprise.

At Studio C, like many not-for-profits, we’re exploring social enterprise. One advantage we have as creative people is that we’re prepared to stumble in the pursuit of an original concept, fresh thinking, and ground-breaking ideas. And we fully expect to be thrown a curve – a learning curve.

Studio C is an art centre connecting diverse communities. Our award-winning centre conducts collaborative projects, art classes, and public exhibitions. Studio C is part of Prospect Human Services. Prospect helps people who face barriers to employment. Unfortunately, that’s a large population. It includes everyone from people with disabilities to recent immigrants to military personnel looking to transition to civilian workplaces. Working with job seekers is only half the equation, however. Educating employers is the other vital component.

In 2005, Prospect saw art as an interesting way to break barriers between disadvantaged groups and the workplace. We found that some people learn better in the art room vs. the class room. Studio C was designed for anyone wanting to explore their creative potential in an environment fostering self-expression and collaboration; a place where artists could sell their work and find employment opportunities facilitating art classes.

The initiative started by building the art community’s capacity to include artists with disabilities, and has since expanded to include many other groups (including mental health, multi-cultural, youth, and older adults).


For Studio C, social enterprise is a significant mind shift. Suddenly you’re contemplating charging for something that provides a community service. It’s a different way of thinking about our work.

We believe that you can’t expect not-for-profits to be successful entrepreneurs right out of the gate. Social enterprises, like entrepreneurs, need to feel that they have the freedom to fail. Even if you enlist help from people who know how to run a business (and you definitely should) that doesn’t guarantee success. It just means that certain fundamentals will be in place.

Studio C is a community builder, fostering human growth through the arts. So how does a revenue motive fit in? Our goal is to achieve social, cultural, and community outcomes. We are translating some of what we do into new revenue streams. Of course, you have to watch that something doesn’t get lost in translation. But our goal is to achieve financial sustainability to support our work.


Where are we starting? We know there are skills everyone needs to be successful at work, including time management, communication, problem solving, conflict resolution, goal-setting, and planning. All of these can be developed and practiced through the discipline of art.

Historically, Studio C has grown through a combination of funded contracts, art-based grants, and entrepreneurial ventures. We’re exploring sustainability through our work with the business community, corporate team-building workshops, sponsorships, fee-for-service, sales of art and merchandise, and fundraising events.

As a social enterprise, Studio C meets several fundamentals that bode well for the future. We fill a niche that the market does not meet, we promote innovation, and we stimulate job creation while supporting an inclusive economy that provides employment and training opportunities for marginalized individuals as well as local businesses.

We’re not selling anything sweet. But Milton Hershey would approve of our mission.

To learn more about Studio C, visit or visit Studio C (lower level, Art Central #9 100 7 Ave SW).


Since 2005, Studio C has:

  • coordinated over 50 community art collaborations with individual artists, organizations, schools, and businesses
  • facilitated Creative Team Building Workshops for a number of companies such as Enbridge, Minuk Law, Imperial Oil, Primerica, Big Rock Brewery, and EllisDon
  • developed employment skills in persons with disabilities and given them confidence in themselves and their employability through the medium of art
  • helped 88% of participants completing our ArtRecruits program achieve employment/education goals
  • exposed thousands of Calgarians – through our exhibits and installations – to the artistry of people from marginalized groups
  • hosted over 100 public exhibitions including solo and group shows
  • enlightened employers to the potential of persons with disabilities in the workforce thereby helping to create a more diverse Calgary workforce
  • supported over 1000 aspiring and practicing artists of all abilities and backgrounds
  • sold over 500 paintings and works of art, generating income for Studio C and its artists (70% of earnings go directly to artists).


How to Adapt to Gentrification & Ensure Community Engagement. A Kensington Story.

Written by Allison Smith, Thrive

House Santuary is a non-profit coffee shop owned and operated by First Alliance Church. The shop opened its’ doors in 2001, with the aim of being a positive place for community in Kensington. “The thought was to get out there into the neighbourhood and be love and grace,” explained Derrick, the shops Manager.


Tackling the Barriers to Employment

Everyone who comes through the doors is treated equally. One of the first people who walked through their doors, was a man who had been kicked out of every other coffee shop in the neighbourhood. “We gave him an environment to help him re-integrate into the community,” said Derrick.

This isn’t a one-time story. The shop is a place for many others who face barriers to community inclusion and employability.

Skill building and community involvement is at the core of the shop’s mission. House Sanctuary has aided kids in getting off the street through their employee mentorship program that intentionally invests in relationship building and positive enforcement. They’ve also worked closely with the Louis Dean School Discovery Program, that is the program of choice for pregnant and parenting teens. “We want to help kids get behind the counter and  tackle the barriers of employment,” explained Derrick. Many of the kids that have gone through their mentorship program have become full-time hires or have received employment elsewhere.

Adapting to the Changing Community

With well kept sidewalks, hanging flower pots and community art, the neighbourhood has a strong sense of walkability, security and vibrancy. The streets have become more dense with local restaurants, coffee shops and higher end retail stores. With that, the Kensington community has experienced gentrification  and the decline of street people living in the area.  In response, the shop is strategically thinking about how they can engage community while still addressing social injustice. “As the demographic in Kensington changes, what is our role in the community?” Derrick explained their constant reflection.“Kensington has gone through a lot of shifts, where it becomes different things for different communities,” he added. “I want them to care about street people,” Derrick said in regards to the new residents.

Jenessa has been working on this issue since 2008 and is now the Community Manager. She changes their community engagement in response to the changing needs of community.  “We realize there is a different demographic in Kensington so we need to be intentional about our shop and products,” explained Jenessa. For example, she’s done this by changing the interior design, events and altering some of their programs. With menu changes, courtesy of the amazing Jordan Maier.


Jenessa and Derrick see this as both an obstacle and an opportunity since gentrification has brought new assets into the community that could be leveraged. They are conscious of the community changes and accurately responding to them, to appropriately bridge the gap between the different demographics. “Because we want to grow and develop our existing programs. The goal is to partner artists from different demographics,” said Jenessa . That way the responsibility isn’t on the shop to continue to provide support, by the relationships move beyond the walls of the coffee shop and into the community. They also continue to provide their diverse programs for local talent to activate local assets. From showcasing local art in the shop, to hosting AA meetings, to community potlucks, their programs address diverse issues in the community. Finally, they  provide space for local graffiti artists to showcase their art on the back alley wall.


The evolution has happened over the last 10 years, and will continue to happen as neighbouring communities continue to be revitalized. The challenge for them is to keep the culture, and exisiting community engaged, while meeting the needs of the new community. Since change is inevitable, it’s important that community champions such as House Sanctuary play an active role in facilitating that change.

Reciprocal Community Relationships.

Derrick said his greatest experience has been becoming close friends with people he otherwise would not have had a chance to connect with. “I became a guardian to a homeless guy who had a brain injury, I walked with him for nearly a decade and got to see a different side of life that I  wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” Derrick said with admiration remembering his past friend.

He continues to build these strong relationships that enrich his life “It’s very reciprocal, as you help people transform they help you transform too,” Derrick said.

Visit the House Coffee Sanctuary website for more information on their community events:



What is a Social Enterprise?

Written by Allison Smith, Thrive

Lately the term Social Enterprise has been thrown around, often with people unsure of what exactly it means. It’s up there with other buzz words such as impact entrepreneur, social entrepreneur and enterprising non-profits. This post will help clarify what a social enterprise is.

A social enterprise is a business with a social mission. That’s why it’s often called a ‘social purpose business’.  The business uses traditional  market based approaches and business strategies to directly improve a social issue. Similarly, it can have a range of business models just like a traditional business. For example it could be a non-profit, for-profit, cooperative and so on.

Social Enterprises exist on a continuum between grant-funded non-profits (driven by social / environmental need) and social purpose business (primarily profit driven). Actions are taken to further their social and environmental goals rather than their investor or shareholder financial value. This is known as blended value return. They can provide organizations, especially not-for-profits, with stability and sustainability since they encourage diverse funding sources.

The Trico Charitable Foundation uses the following continuum to categorize social enterprises. Everyone can evaluate their organization differently, placing it on various points on the continuum. It isn’t black and white.


In a world of choice, innovation, and globalization, social enterprise is significant in tackling environmental and social issues across Canada. This October, the Social Enterprise World Forum will be hosted in Calgary. This two day event will bring together world leaders, to further the social enterprise movement. It will also help to further our global understanding of social enterprise, with discussions such as: Introduction to Social Enterprise.

Learn more about the social enterprise forum here:

GOOD Company: Changing the way Calgarians think about Business & Meaningful Employment!

Chris and Gillian jump2_smlWritten by Allison Smith, Thrive

This year marks the 1 year anniversary of GOOD Company doing good for good people.  The company was founded by the talented, community champions Gillian Hickie and Chris Wharton (pictured above). The nitty gritty of what they do is branding, promotional materials and website design. Plus, they strive to work with clients that they connect with and that are making an impact in Calgary. While having a bit of fun too!

Both have rich backgrounds in graphic design, with the dream of being business owners on the back burner. Thankfully for Calgarians, their shared dream came to light last year.  “Being able to create something that is aligned with our own thinking rather than have it dictated to us, has been a fantastic, positive experience,” Chris described his experience as a social entrepereneur.

Creating a Model for Meaningful Employment.

The two described the transition as a leap of faith that has been very rewarding. With nothing but good things to say about their work, community and their clients, the words meaningful employment practically exuded from their smiles.

“What is a good model for a creative company? What do people want in their  job-life balance?” asked Gillian. They are very conscious to consider meaningful employment both for themselves and their contract designers. Such as ensuring work place flexibility or fostering a collaborative, open work culture. Prior to launching GOOD Company Gillian created a company culture handbook that has been integrated in their everyday practices. She’s already dreaming ahead to when they start taking on more full-time hires. “Treating our employees fair is a given, it’s about going further than that,” Chris added. Although, the vision has always been to become a boutique size design firm.

The two are living wage advocates and definitely take it into consideration when contracting. “If people are happy with what they are being paid, they’ll do better work and end up wanting to work for you more often,” Gillian explains one reason why it’s important to pay a living wage.

GOOD Co_hold logos

They’re Picky About Their Clients… For Good Reason.

GOOD Company works with clients that are doing good. There is no strict criteria as to what “GOOD” is, whether that’s environmental, social or economical. “Nothing is clear cut, they have to be trying to do good things and trying to innovate,” Chris explained. Although, they have turned away individuals that do not meet their impact model. It’s been a bold and brave move to set such criteria, that could have worked against them. However, they’re happy with its reception, especially with the movement in socially responsible businesses in Calgary. “There’s something distinct about us, that people want to self identify with,” said Gillian.

“There is a bit of mythology about Calgary and the industry in Calgary, that you need to have some oil and gas,  or you can’t make it without a little in Calgary,” Chris described the misconception.  On the flip side is the belief that if you want to do good, you have to design for charity. They have been pleasantly surprised that neither holds true. With clients ranging from non-profits, for-profits and social entrepreneurs.

They are changing the way we think about business and how we do business, especially in the design sector. Businesses can look beyond the bottom line, and critically think about their mission, impact and their choice of clients. By setting such principles and guidelines in their business practices, hopefully GOOD Company can influence other local business owners to do the same!


To help celebrate their 1 year anniversary, GOOD Company is hosting its’ second Grow Your Good Initiative. It’s simple. Let them know the good you’re doing, and you could win $1000 in design work! For more information on contest details, visit: GrowYourGood

Check out the new GOOD Company website  and more awesome jumping pictures here:

A Geek, a Conversation Killer & a Social Impact Market Creator. Stephanie Robertson discusses her journey in building SiMPACT Strategy Group.

Written by Allison Smith, Thrive

“I use to be a professional dinner party conversation killer,” says Stephanie Robertson, the founder of SiMPACT Strategy Group. Ten years ago her work was barely talked about, and often lost among her peers. Now, with a lot of hard work to create a prosperous market, Stephanie has managed to turn the unknown into a thriving curiosity among Calgarians. Continue reading “A Geek, a Conversation Killer & a Social Impact Market Creator. Stephanie Robertson discusses her journey in building SiMPACT Strategy Group.” »