Achieving Greater Independence through Social Enterprise

Achieving Greater Independence through Social Enterprise

BC Aboriginal Friendship Centres adopt social purpose business model as top priority

When eight aboriginal people living in low-income housing received an opportunity from their Aboriginal Friendship Centre to paint their complex, they took on the job, gaining enough painting hours to become licensed.  

They started their own company, winning their first contract with the RCMP, then a school. New contracts with the RCMP and schools followed. The eight individuals and their families have since moved out of low-income housing, buying or leasing their own homes.

It’s success stories like that that have Paul Lacerte optimistic about the potential for BC’s Aboriginal Friendship Centres to create new revenue for its centres and the people they serve through social enterprise.

Paul Lacerte

The 40-year old organization that supports aboriginal people living in urban areas to move along the continuum from surviving to thriving, created a new 20-year strategic plan that lists economic self-sufficiency and social enterprise among its Top 5 priority areas. 

Paul, who is the executive director of the British Columbia Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAF), says the association is in its first year of the agenda, and the innovations taking place are pretty exciting.

Of the 25 native friendship centres, 25-30 per cent are running profitable businesses that blend social impact and financial profit. Social enterprises owned by aboriginal friendship centres range from a Prince George catering company that trains aboriginal people to work in the catering industry to a bannock pizza company with a vision to employ Aboriginal Peoples in all departments of the company: from drivers to managers.

There is training for friendship centres to enhance business skills, and the association aims to build a database of successful social enterprises from across the province.

For Paul, who is also a member of the B.C Advisory Council for Social Entrepreneurshipsocial enterprises can represent Aboriginal Peoples in a modern context, allowing them to reinvent their culture and move from dependence to independence. This is vital, when only seven per cent of Aboriginals are in the middle class, compared to the rest of Canada, where the middle class sits at 60 per cent.

“The most exciting thing is the notion of the friendship centres movement getting into this area of business and having a much more substantive economic impact directly for our brothers and sisters who are healing and growing and getting stronger and healthier,” he says. “The potential for that to help a lot of our people to become more economically independent is phenomenal.”

The model will also strengthen the financial independence of friendship centres. Public funding is shrinking and social enterprise enables the centres to make their own decisions, Paul says. The BCAAFC has a goal to generate as much own-source revenue as it possibly can, allowing greater freedom over which priority areas they respond to.

— More to Come

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Writer Bio

Camille Jensen's picture
Camille Jensen

Camille Jensen is an employee share ownership consultant with ESOP Builders, Canada’s largest provider of employee share ownership plans (ESOPs) for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Prior to joining ESOP Builders, Camille was a generative journalist and team member at Axiom News. She credits her time at Axiom as fundamental to her understanding that business is one of the best opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Camille is a B.C. Partner for Social Impact and volunteer with Okanagan Changemakers.

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