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Our social enterprise celebrates 10 years

Furniture Link – our social enterprise arm 

This year was the 10th year anniversary of our social enterprise arm Furniture Link, so we thought we’d take a look back at our time as a social enterprise and reflect on the #SocEnt space in general.

 

What is a Social Enterprise?

As many who read this may know, a social enterprise is a unique organization that, as per Wikipedia, ‘applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximizing profits for external shareholders.’

In fact, the definition of a social enterprise is multi-faceted, epitomised by the fact that there is no legal business form for, nor even a common international definition of, a social enterprise (Social Enterprise Canada).

What can be said however is that social enterprises are entities with an explicit focus on the positive social impact they create; any revenue maximization strategies undertaken are rooted in the desire to extend that impact.

 

Furniture Bank has had one for over 10 years!

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There are of course many different forms and paths that organizations take in order to realize a social enterprise model. For Furniture Bank, registered as a charity since 1997, our social enterprise – Furniture Link – was created to generate a stable revenue stream, allowing us to continue to serve clients in need of furniture without being dependant on grants and external funding. For those unable to drop off their unwanted furniture at our warehouse in Etobicoke, Furniture Link provides a GTA wide pick up service (starting from $99), coming to your home and removing your furniture and houseware items for you.

A similar model has been recreated at other charitable organizations such as St. Leonard’s Society of Toronto, which recently took the wraps off their new social enterprise, Klink Coffee. The enterprise itself and the funds generated contribute directly to the job skills training, internships and placement services St. Leonard’s offer their clients (individuals returning home from prison).

In both instances, the positive social impact is baked directly into the product or service being sold.

 

Social Enterpises need to excel at what they do

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However, to be successful, social enterprises need to be just as dynamic and committed to excellence as their commercial counterparts. It is no longer enough to ‘merely’ have a social purpose; consumers expect to have a superior experience when they make their purchase. This was demonstrated at Furniture Bank when we recognised we were missing out on furniture donations because of the lack of an express pick up service. Even though we lack the capacity to offer such a service, we have teamed up with one of the largest private sector suppliers in this space YouMoveMe, to meet that demand.

In fact meeting a demand and excelling at it is quickly becoming a hallmark of a great social enterprise. The fact that each purchase also contributes directly to a positive social outcome makes a compelling case for consumers.

Know of a #SocEnt that’s excelling at what it does? Got any comments about the #SocEnt space in general? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @Furniture_Bank

Inspiring Earth Day Events and Quotes From Around The World

 

How Do People Celebrate Earth Day?

Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22, is a  worldwide event demonstrating  support for environmental protection. Debuting in the United States in 1970, it is now celebrated in more than 192 countries!

This week in accordance with Earth Day, organizations and community groups from around the globe will be hosting fun innovative events to raise awareness of environmental issues in their communities.

For example, In Africa, the Jambo Africa Tourism Organization Network will be educating local women in Kenya on the advantages of using bamboo cook stoves (Facebook page here). In China, Beijing hikers are rallying together to clean up the Great Wall. And in Latin America, the Keep Bermuda Beautiful organization will host an art competition for art made from trash found on local beaches.

7 Inspiring Earth Day Quotes for you to share today:

 

1. “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

-Henry David Thoreau

2. “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”

-Evo Morales

3. “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.”

-Marshall McLuhan

4. “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

-Native American Proverb

5. The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.”

-Lady Bird Johnson

6. “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

-Albert Einstein

7. I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use.”

-Mother Teresa

 

 

From Streets to Homes: fight to end street homelessness in Toronto

Many Furniture Bank clients have the need to lean upon multiple sources on their journey towards fresh starts and new possibilities.

Our organization has a long list of partner organizations that complement the services we offer. The Streets to Homes (S2H) program, funded by the City of Toronto and other levels of government, is one such partner.

S2H was created in 2005 in an effort to curb the number of individuals living on the streets of Toronto. The need for such a program was partially fuelled by high-profile examples of widespread homelessness in the city, such as the Tent City community that emerged on the Toronto waterfront during the early 2000s. The mandate of the program was simple: to end street homelessness in Toronto and find housing environments for those living without basic needs.

According to an infographic published by the City of Toronto in late 2012, more than 3,800 clients have been housed by S2H and partner agencies since the program’s 2005 inception.

A considerable effort is needed to fully transition even a single client from the city streets into comfortable, personalized accommodation. However, with 25 partner agencies and a legacy approaching the decade mark, S2H continues to move forward in its efforts to help Toronto’s homeless.

“Housing is one thing but it doesn’t really become a home until you furnish it,” says Gord Tanner, manager of the S2H program. “Furniture Bank has been an important partner for us because it helps create those ‘homes’ for our clients. I’d estimate 90-95 per cent of the people we house become Furniture Bank clients as well.”

There is a degree of commonality to the individuals that S2H helps most often. Approximately 75 per cent of its clients are male. Aboriginal populations have a heavy representation and a majority of the clients classify as long-term homeless (i.e. people who had been homeless for over a year).

These are challenging populations to service because of the deep-rooted social and economic issues that these individuals face. However, as a veteran social worker with more than 15-years experience in helping others, Tanner has seen numerous turnarounds emerge from S2H’s efforts.

“One of the most memorable success stories [ of S2H] is when we were able to help a lady who was living on the streets for over a decade. After that much time, adjusting to housing can be a real challenge when you’re accustomed to sleeping on grates or in parks for so many years. In this case, the program worked and she now wants to volunteer, build her skills and help give back to others. It’s been an amazing process to witness.”

In late 2010, the City of Toronto’s Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre opened on Peter Street in downtown Toronto. This impressive facility gave the program a boosted image and an upsized outlook from which to coordinate mobile street outreach services in the downtown core and in other parts of the city.

However, with more than 5,000 individuals still in shelters, on the street, in corrections and health care facilities as a whole, there continues to be no shortage of clients for programs such as S2H. Luckily, the dedication of the program and its partners (including Furniture Bank) means that these populations can rebound when provided with a helping hand.

As Tanner notes, “As an organization, [Furniture Bank] has always been a remarkable partner with respect to choice that they offer their clients. They are treated like customers in a retail space and make choices based on their style and comfort preferences. That ability to choose is a very powerful thing on the road to change.”

Cam is a Toronto-based PR professional and freelance writer. He volunteers his time to write for Furniture Bank. Follow him on Twitter at @cam_gordon.

Five fun facts about south Etobicoke

Tucked away in the southwest corner of Toronto proper, south Etobicoke is the home to Furniture Bank and a wide range of other organizations, green spaces and vibrant area residents.  Also referred to as New Toronto, the area was once a major hub of Toronto’s manufacturing industry and still maintains an authentic, hard working feel, complemented with exciting new housing developments and major improvements along the shore of Lake Ontario.

 Since we moved our headquarters and primary showroom to the region in August of 2012, it’s been a pleasure getting to know the members of our community and sprouting roots for our organization in the process.

 To shine a light back on some of our newly-minted neighbours, here are five fun fact you may not have known about south Etobicoke.

South Etobicoke has a brand new public green space as the second and final phase of the Mimico Waterfront Park opened in June of 2013. Offering residents and visitors direct access to the waterfront for the first time, the Park stretches 1.1 kilometres  between Norris Crescent Parkette and Humber Bay Park West. Check out this article in the Torontoist for some shots of the Park.

Did you know that the Toronto Maple Leafs practice in south Etobicoke? It’s true! The MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence houses four rinks (three NHL rinks and one Olympics) and is the official practice facility for both the Leafs and their AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies. For you reality TV fans, the third season of the popular CBC television program Battle of the Blades was shot at the facility. You can learn more about the Mastercard Centre here.

 Pro hockey players aren’t the only people training in south Etobicoke. The Toronto Police College training facility on Birmingham Street opened in September 2009 and passes hundreds of individuals, from new recruits to senior officials, through its doors every year. The College also has partnerships with other leading learning institutions such as Guelph University and the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, as well as community safety partners at the Toronto Transit Commission, the Toronto Housing Authority, and the University of Toronto.

The New Toronto Historical Society is a community organization with a mandate “to preserve and promote the history of the Town of New Toronto”. Staffed by volunteers from in and around the south Etobicoke region, the Society hosts meetings throughout the year with topics focused on the rich history of the area. Their next event, slated for October 5, 2013, is a historical walk and celebratory tea in honour of New Toronto’s 100th anniversary.

The local Member of Parliament for the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding (where our facility is located) is Bernard Trottier of the Canadian Conservative Party. Bernard has been in office since late Spring 2011 when he succeeded former Liberal Party of Canada leader Michael Ignatieff and is an Etobicoke resident himself, residing in the area with his wife and two children. Check out some images of a recent visit Bernard paid to our showroom from his official website here.

What do you love about south Etobicoke, or about your neighborhood? We would love to hear from you about the people and places that make where you live and work a community.

By Cam Gordon 

Cam is a Toronto-based PR professional and freelance writer. He volunteers his time to write for Furniture Bank.