At Choices for Youth, we believe that every young person has potential. It is with this optimism that we deliver supportive services to youth through innovative programming in housing, family and natural supports, health and outreach, and education and employment.
We operate social enterprises as a mechanism to employ youth. If a social enterprise opportunity appears, it needs to employ as many youth as it can. We know that employment unlocks the world for many youth; it helps them maintain housing, have independence, and be engaged in the labour market. Most importantly, social enterprise at CFY provides access to necessary supports that meet youth where they are, and helps prepare them for new opportunities. In the long view, CFY sees a world where economies are more inclusive and operate with social and economic principles, as we know that these two items are interconnected.
The four social enterprises operated by CFY are:
Impact Construction - Our construction company.
The Shop - Our multifaceted production facility.
Neighbourhood - Our affordable and inclusive second hand retail store.
Newest social enterprise - Focuses on food production for both institutions and general consumers, and will soon be hitting the market.
We also run educational programs, provide training for hard skills and essential skills, and provide a community-oriented environment where youth can engage in work that is safe, supportive, and meets basic needs. Our programs provide wrap-around support for each youth to help with harm reduction, career development, and systems navigation.
Though the social benefits are clear, we would be remiss not to mention that social enterprises are tough businesses to run. They required skilled staff to really deliver on that triple bottom line: sustainable profits, environmental responsibility, and social impact. The complexity of the work results in their exponential impacts that are far beyond net pay and lowest bids – it’s about the value you can generate that is felt in households and labour markets; changing intergenerational poverty and welfare systems; increasing the threshold of community development; and the evolution of the workforce.
Impact Construction has employed youth aged 16-29 for the past 10 years. We have worked on both private and public contracts, built our own housing to contribute to purpose-built housing supply, and we have completed construction work for our fellow non-profits. Specifically, we have worked with our housing authority to deliver on renovations, energy retrofits, snow clearing, and new housing. We have demonstrated the value of social purchasing in white papers and case studies, and have become a strong advocate for the development of community benefits policies in Newfoundland and Labrador. We have demonstrated value from pilot to pilot, and now we are ready for policy action.
Now more than ever, Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) - "deals between developers and coalitions of community organizations, addressing a broad range of community needs" - and social procurement policies need to be built into our provincial procurement framework. Newfoundland and Labrador is in a precarious financial position only compacted by the complexities of provincial expenditures, declining populations, expansive geography, and a volatile resource-based economy. The status quo will not get us out of this – rather, it was a contributing factor of getting us here. Engaging youth and community, opening market access for social enterprise, and a focus on economic diversification are crucial components to paving a path out.
We know the policy levers can be pulled – we have seen this happen regularly throughout the pandemic in order to best meet needs across sectors and income brackets. Now we need to create the change towards conscious spending to generate value for citizens – not just shareholders. By implementing social procurement policies and the future-oriented approach of CBAs, value can be generated across sectors and departments, creating reverberating positive impact as we build back better and work towards a just recovery for all. -Chelsey
Chelsey MacNeil is the Director of Education, Employment and Social Enterprise at Choices for Youth.