Behind the Scenes at Social Enterprise Heroes

A course teaching sustainable resource development is making an even bigger impact after participating in Social Enterprise Heroes.

Behind the Scenes at Social Enterprise Heroes

Annual B.C. competition answers unasked questions for Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society

By the time non-profit leaders pitch their social enterprises under bright lights at this year’s Social Enterprise Heroes event in Vancouver, B.C., the hard work will already be done.

For six weeks leading up to the event, each leader will have taken part in multiple meetings with a coach who specializes in their field of interest to define and present their business challenge or opportunity.

It’s this coaching process that is often the most meaningful part of the contest giving way to new insights and strategic opportunities, yet it happens behind the scenes.

Axiom News, media sponsor for Social Enterprise Heroes, wanted to give you a sense of this dynamic relationship between coach and non-profit leader. We caught up with one of last year’s finalists Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society (HGHES) to learn more about their journey to the stage.

Here’s their coaching story:

When leaders of Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society (HGHES) entered Social Enterprise Heroes, the goal was to receive feedback and support on a marketing challenge.

This social enterprise, which offers a new take on natural resource studies, was looking to expand its educational program to two semesters a year. New marketing would increase awareness and reach of the program, they assumed.

  Interim HGHES executive director Jen Dysart presents at Social Enterprise Heroes 2012.

HGHES leaders were paired with Social Enterprise Heroes coach Mike Rowlands, whose firm Junxion Strategy offers cause marketing expertise.

Their first challenge was meeting, as Haida Gwaii is located on the north coast of B.C., a very expensive and more than two hour flight from Vancouver. This meant the intimate coaching sessions would have to take place over the phone.

During the initial calls, the team began digging into the marketing question, and quickly realized HGHES’ marketing was working, their courses were full. Adding an extra semester didn’t mean they would need new marketing.

This sparked a larger conversation about the vision for the five-year-old social enterprise — where did it want to be in the future, what would it take to get to the next level, and could they add new mission-related courses to expand their student base?

“They couldn’t answer those questions, so we switched gears and started talking about visioning, and the problem they presented was different than what they included in the proposal,” recalls Mike.

  Mike Rowlands

According to Mike, it’s the ability for a social enterprise to work with an outside advisor on a business challenge or opportunity that is an added benefit to participating in the Heroes event.

“Probably half the time you end up completely reframing the question,” the four-time Social Enterprise Heroes coach tells Axiom News.

“And sometimes that happens more than once. It’s good, because they are learning all the way along.”

HGHES executive director Laurel Currie agrees. She says participating in Heroes helped the social enterprise learn its real challenge was how it should grow. The leadership team was able to use its cash prize from the event to purchase strategic planning services.

Laurel says the strategic planning process challenged HGHES to think bigger about its social enterprise and explore new revenue options with a goal of being completely sustainable in the future.

As a result, HGHES has expanded their courses to a fall and winter semester, with both almost sold out for the 2013-2014 year.

They’re also networking with other universities and exploring partnership opportunities to create new programs ranging from professional development to educational tourism.

  Students learn traditional wisdom from local knowledge-holders in addition to their professors.

“It’s really amazing, it’s snowballing and I think there are many reasons but I think our involvement with the (Heroes) put our name out there more and helped expand our network,” says Laurel.

And with new opportunities comes increased social impact.

Laurel says students who attend a semester in Haida Gwaii leave as leaders in understanding ecosystems management. This comes as a result of being deeply immersed in a resource dependent community where the pressing social, ecological, political and economic issues facing natural resource managers converge at a local scale.

Having students live on Haida Gwaii during their semester also makes a positive impact on the remote community, she adds.

“After last winter’s semester it was clear that we were injecting just from students and professors about $100,000 to the community per semester,” says Laurel, adding this doesn’t include revenue from HGHES, which jumps the economic impact to $400,000 per year.

As a result, new businesses are popping up on the island to support the students.

“It’s a small enough community that this means something,” says Laurel.

This year’s Social Enterprise Heroes takes place March 27, at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Arts Centre. To learn about this year’s contestants, click here.

If you liked this story, check out these:

Our own:
Three Social Enterprises Escape Dragons’ Wrath to Win Big

Where Big Business and Social Enterprise Collide

The web:
An Evening with the Social Enterprise Dragons

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Writer Bio

Camille Jensen's picture
Camille Jensen

Camille Jensen is an employee share ownership consultant with ESOP Builders, Canada’s largest provider of employee share ownership plans (ESOPs) for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Prior to joining ESOP Builders, Camille was a generative journalist and team member at Axiom News. She credits her time at Axiom as fundamental to her understanding that business is one of the best opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Camille is a B.C. Partner for Social Impact and volunteer with Okanagan Changemakers.

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