Last Month I had the privilege to be part of a discussion organized by the Government of Ontario at the KPMG office in Toronto. Major private companies and organizations that were attending were asked: “why aren’t more businesses hiring people with disabilities?”
I was referred by Jamie Burton, from Dolphin Digital Technologies, to be part of this meeting. Although I see people like Jamie really working hard to improve the participation of those with disabilities in the workforce, (which she has been doing for years), I feel like the the vast majority of companies just don’t want to get involved with this issue. When they are involved, quite often, it is because they have to be, not because they want to. During my participation, I was trying to point out that there are other alternatives than just beg to the private sector to employ those with disabilities. We should be investing more in the development of social enterprises.
Social Enterprises are revenue-generating businesses, for-profit or not-for-profit, that are created to generate a social/environmental impact. In other words, an organization that finance its social/environmental impact selling goods and services, building a self-sustainable operation.
Other people already have written about this subject, but I want to give some more examples of how social enterprises can benefit people who are facing barriers of employment. The first example I want to share is The Empowerment Plan. Based in Detroit, this social enterprise first aimed to help the local homeless population with a multi-use coat that could be turned into a sleeping bag. Veronika Scott, the CEO of the organization, realized later that the people that she was looking to assist didn’t want coats: they needed jobs. The enterprise mostly hires homeless women from local shelters to become full time seamstresses so that they can earn a stable income, find secure housing, and gain back their independence for themselves and for their families.
“A business can be successful and make a difference”
One of my favourite social enterprises is Social Imprints. Based in California, Social Imprints sells merchandising items, including t-shirts and mouse pads, for companies such as LinkedIn, Dropbox, Pinterest and many others. They state that “at least 80% of the Social Imprints workforce are from at-risk populations”. This includes formerly incarcerated individuals, recovering addicts, low-income individuals, individuals with less than a high school education, and veterans discharged within five years. Their social approach has been opening many doors since they started their operation.
In 2015, after my frustrating experience as job developer assisting those with disabilities in Toronto, I started an idea of a for-profit social enterprise, which aims to promote and create employment opportunities for those with disabilities. The idea was to grow a clothing brand and every time we had the chance to hire someone, we would prioritize those with a disability. Besides our clothing brand, we also offer customized t-shirts, promotional items, graphic design services and motivational speaking oppurtunities. We want to build an inclusive workplace and make great products taking advantage of our “diversability”. Our clients can have access to high quality products and, at the same time, be an agent of an important social awakening.
Now imagine if there was a social enterprise providing catering services, event planning, or making furniture, where positions could be filled with individuals with disabilities. Consumers and companies would be able to purchase products from them not because it is a charity, but because they deliver what the clients need, at a competitive price with high quality services. Hopefully, in the near future, the Ontario Government will wake up to this intelligent alternative. As Jamie says "Once a business can be successful and make a difference” and that’s what we need: a win-win situation that can impact our society for good.