Having to choose between paying rent, purchasing groceries or heating your home should not be a situation faced on a regular basis. However, in Winnipeg’s North End community, this is an unfortunate reality that too many experience.
Back in 2005, there was a natural gas spike, which substantially increased the price for how we heat our homes. For those who were already struggling, to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families, were confronted with more tough decisions.
“Rent, food or freezing to death,” says Art Ladd, executive director of Building Urban Industries for Local Development (BUILD) Inc., a social enterprise non-profit, that provides general contracting services as well as a training program for people who experience employment barriers.
“These were very real situations,” says Ladd. “While mainstream media was starting to talk about energy-poverty in the middle-class, the inner city and the people in low income neighbourhoods were already making impossible decisions everyday, like “do I pay my rent or put food on the table?””
To provide a little more context to the situation, at the time, the province of Manitoba was discussing an energy efficiency project for lower income households. Coincidently (or not), the North End community consumed a vast amount of energy, due to old and poorly insulated and maintained homes. However, after talking with the community it was expressed that providing jobs was the top priority to the people who lived here. BUILD was founded by the Indigenous community shortly after, which started as an insulation company to insulate these homes, meeting the government’s interests, and at the same time hiring the people that live in those homes and neighborhoods to do the work.
“So their incomes are rising and their energy costs are going down,” says Ladd. “It was a very elegant and beautiful entrepreneurial idea that was born out of necessity, but also out of collaboration and partnership between the urban Indigenous community and government.”
As a social enterprise, BUILD aims to achieve social and systems change rather than focusing solely on monetary profits. Although they still use common business practices, earning profits is not their main goal.
“Our mission is simply creating training and employment opportunities for people with barriers to employment,” says Ladd. “We want to balance that tension between being financially profitable on the business side, and meeting the social needs on the other.”
Today, BUILD provides training and employment in renovation and maintenance to individuals of the North End community who face various barriers to employment.
Prior to COVID-19, BUILD was enrolling 25 trainees into the classroom portion of the program, every two months. With the pandemic and its restrictions, they’ve adapted, scaling back to only five or six trainees per classroom enrollment. During the first two months of the program, trainees are learning in both classroom and workshop settings and the last four months are spent gaining practical experience on BUILD’s job sites doing interior renovations for real-world customers.
In his experience, Ladd says there are many circumstances that make it very difficult for people from the community to know what it means to work in the mainstream settler economy.
“For many people who have never been able to have work experience or may have never seen a family member work due to the legacy of colonization, residential schools and/or forced economic dependence, holding onto a job can be a very difficult transition.”
On top of the hard skills acquired with insulation, renovation and maintenance training, BUILD also provides trainees with a variety of other intangible supports. During the program, trainees have the opportunity to develop a social network with other industry professionals that in most cases, leads to future and permanent employment after their time with BUILD.
Even more, trainees participate in money management training, parenting programs (if applicable), driver training and cultural programming.
More Than “Just a Job”
While training at BUILD, a mentorship naturally evolves and Ladd says it’s a key part of the work they do and impacts trainees as much as the program itself does.
“When we have a crew-lead who has been in Stony Mountain Institution and has escaped gang life, and they’re able to mentor someone who’s trying to do the same, it’s a very powerful way of creating community in a safe place where they understand the struggle,” says Ladd.
The obstacles trainees overcome throughout their time at BUILD can be life changing. For these reasons, it’s important for us to reevaluate how things are currently being done. We should be looking for opportunities on how we can better provide the community with supports and resources that meet many objectives, focusing on people-first and profits second.
Ladd believes that in order to create systems change and have a social innovation centered society, we need to recognize that there isn’t an end point or an end destination. It’s a process and there’s always going to be more work to do because there’s always something else we will discover that isn’t working.
A Year of Reflection and Recognition
With housing being an essential service, BUILD has been busier than ever since the pandemic began in March and like many, it has provided them with an opportunity to review and reflect on how they do things.
“COVID-19 has shone a light on the disparity between those with privilege and those without and we’ve seen this gap widen extensively,” says Ladd.
In its history, BUILD has always worked with and provided support and employment for individuals who’ve been on the margins and/or have been faced with institutional and systemic barriers.
“Because of this increased gap, it’s initiatives like BUILD or innovative solutions to our socioeconomic challenges in our inner city communities, that are needed now more than ever,” says Ladd.
Over the last few months, BUILD has specifically taken a deeper look at how they’ve been delivering their curriculum to see if there are more innovative ways to still meet their objectives and provide trainees with the same learning experiences.
It’s Also About Community
Collaborating and building relationships with the community and organizations within it, are what’s most important to Ladd and his team. He says that it’s easy for non-profits or businesses to get caught up in the day-to-day of their work, but the stronger the relationships are with each other the more we as a community can accomplish.
BUILD is part of a growing and evolving ecosystem and isn’t interested in competing within the social enterprise sector.
“We want to help lift the entire sector up to create even bigger changes in the systems and eventually create an a-just economy for everyone, starting with those who have been excluded as a matter of government policy,” says Ladd.
What can you do?
- Consider hiring social enterprises or businesses that have multiple bottom lines, social values or a social purpose.
- Talk to elected officials and push for more holistic approaches such as government buying more goods and services from social enterprises.
- Purchase goods from companies that are actually giving back to the community, not just for corporate social responsibility, but in much more meaningful ways that will transform our economy.
What’s next for BUILD INC.?
Property management business- As the province slowly moves out of the business of social housing and starts to unload their assets to the non-profit sector, BUILD is moving toward being a part of that due to the fact that a large portion of its work is done for Manitoba Housing. It wants to keep people working, keep people housed and maintain public housing, keep social housing as a community asset, and do all of this in a much more holistic way.
Expanding work with Corrections Canada- Build on the work it’s currently doing with the Correctional Service of Canada where it’s developed a process for how people are exited from Stony Mountain Institution. Essentially, it subcontracts work to Stony Mountain Institution inmates who are on an Escorted Temporary Absence and then they can have a Work Release, where they’re working with BUILD. Eventually, when they have parole they will already have a job because they’ve been working for BUILD and earning money while they’ve been incarcerated.
Social Innovation Canada– In collaboration with BUILD’s sister organization Purpose Construction, it owns a facility known as the Social Enterprise Center that acts as a hub for Manitoba in the Social Innovation Canada national network. It wants to be able to share what it’s doing, how it’s doing it and provide communities with the resources and information needed to replicate its model within their respective communities. It also allows BUILD to connect with other social innovators across Canada, supporting one another and becoming part of a national ecosystem of changemakers.
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