Going Green

The John Howard Society of Southeastern New Brunswick launches a social enterprise that it hopes will bring jobs to its clients, result in more energy efficient low-income houses and generate much-needed revenue. 

Published in the July issue of Progress magazine.

Photo courtesy of p.Gordon via Flickr.

Photo courtesy of p.Gordon via Flickr.

Like many non-profits in New Brunswick, 2011 was a challenging year for the John Howard Society of Southeastern New Brunswick (JHSSENB), an organization aimed at reducing and preventing crime. Government cutbacks forced them to lay off four of its eleven employees, which in turn put added pressure on the remaining seven to find solutions to their economic woes.

None of them looked at the extra workload as a burden, however, and instead saw it as an opportunity. “We wanted something really long-term,” says Executive Director Joanne Murray. “We wanted something significant that not only impacted our organization financially but also gave our clients an opportunity to make some real life changes.”

It now appears that Murray found that “something” at a conference last year in St. John’s. She had the opportunity to hear a presentation from BUILD, a social enterprise contractor and training program in Winnipeg for people who, like the JHSSENB’s clients, face barriers to employment (no high school diploma, criminal record, etc.). For eight years, BUILD has successfully trained and employed these individuals to retrofit low-income housing units with energy efficient improvements.

Murray knew almost instantly that this idea could work with the JHSSENB. Like her, the organization saw the potential in it, but the one major obstacle was that they didn’t have the manpower to develop the idea into a viable social enterprise.

Enter the University of New Brunswick’s Pond-Deshpande Centre, which put out a call for social enterprise concept papers not long after Murray returned from St. John’s. The chosen idea would be paired with a student team that developed it. The JHSSENB submitted their idea, and a few months later found out it was selected.

Peter Goggin was the Masters student charged with leading the student team that would try to get this social enterprise they were now calling the “Green Trade” program off the ground. “Improving the quality of life for people in New Brunswick is something I’m passionate about,” he says. “And I saw that passion at the John Howard Society as well. So building something together that would help people and generate revenue was something that was easy to get behind.”

Over the past eight months Goggin and his team put together market and financial analysis reports, and a business plan. They and the JHSSENB also met with Efficiency NB, who would potentially deliver weatherization training to employees, and the New Brunswick Department of Social Development, who would hopefully hire the JHSSENB to retrofit low-income housing units. “It was impressive to see the support structure in New Brunswick around emerging social business,” says Goggin. “It was eye-opening to see the other players in that space and how everyone is willing to work together at these problems.”

The JHSSENB is hoping that support will still be there once the Green Trade program gets started. Right now, ten individuals are completing basic carpentry training through a federally-funded program, and in August they’ll likely complete weatherization training with Efficiency NB. In the meantime, the JHSSENB will be working to line up retrofitting contracts, which they hope will generate enough revenue to maintain a team of at least four people and put 25% of total overhead costs back into the JHSSENB annually.

Although it’s still early, Murray is confident this program will improve the financial health of the organization and the quality of life for some of the most vulnerable living in the region. But none of it, she’s quick to point out, would have been possible without the Pond-Deshpande Centre. “We’re always coming face to face with great ideas, but as a non-profit we don’t often have the human resources to really explore them. So without the benefit of Peter and his class it probably wouldn’t have happened. It was just amazing what they did to help us.”

 

 

 

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