By James O’Keefe-Daw (AIMS on Campus Student Fellow)
Social enterprise; for those unfamiliar with the word, it is a business whose business model is sustainable and also solves social problems. Throughout my undergraduate degree I have been fortunate enough to learn this word and see how students can create and manage a social enterprise that actually helps individuals social and economic wellbeing.
In Atlantic Canada and around the world, university students are thriving to make change by creating businesses that actually make an impact. For the past two years I was involved with Enactus, a world wide student social enterprise organization at Memorial University. The project we were involved with was Project SucSeed, an initiative that has at-risk youth create hydroponic units that allow individuals in northern Canada grow fresh produce. The business model works as follows – partner with Choices for Youth, a not-for-profit organization that offers services to youth facing homelessness, addiction and other problems in order to offer these youth employment. The at-risk youth are then trained, given a proper wage and they then build hydroponic units. Hydroponics is a technology that allows individuals to grow produce indoors by using led lights, water, nutrients and a soul substitute called rock wool. No soil or natural sunlight is needed, making it a natural fit for northern Canada where produce cannot be grown and importation of produce is high with consequences.
The next step Enactus did was find corporate partners who could help fund units in Nunavut and Labrador because people in the affected areas may not be able to afford the units. Afterwards, the model is sustainable because consumers who can afford the units can buy it which helps fund northern expansion and the cost to produce the systems themselves. Most important of all though, undergraduate students with the help of Enactus Memorial’s faculty advisor, manage the whole project.
From ideation to implementation, students can create a project that solves serious issues such as food insecurity, and can create economic, social and environmental progress through volunteering. Other universities in Atlantic Canada such as Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s have Enactus teams that create real social change as well. Perhaps we as a society should look for innovation in youth in order to solve societal and economic needs concurrently. One does not have to sacrifice society or economic gain, but instead allow both social and economic policy or initiatives to compliment one another.