AWARE’s sustainable social enterprising vision

Whistler Question
August 3, 2016
By: Michelle Ratcliffe
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AWARE’s portfolio of projects and programs are growing faster than you can say “neighbourhood greenhouse,” with some of their latest initiatives testing out an enterprising business model.

So why is Whistler’s environmental charity exploring enterprise? As Claire Ruddy, executive director of AWARE explained, these new endeavours follow a social enterprise model, generating revenue with motivation to address social and environmental need ahead of profit.

“All funds generated go directly into AWARE’s existing projects and programs and the development of new projects and programs. All of which connect people with the environmental component of our vibrant community,” explained Ruddy.

She also sees AWARE’s move into the social enterprise space as one that fits with the current trend in the non-profit sector to increase stability and resilience. This move can increase buy-in for their overall vision, fund projects beyond the time limits placed by grant funding, and boost advocacy efforts not eligible for grant funding.

ecoActive Whistler offers hands-on team building

In 2015 Ruddy participated in the Social Venture Challenge pitching “ecoActive Whistler,” a give-back program to connect conferences with nature and the community through environmental restoration and improvement projects. The challenge helped participants develop a formal business plan and provided mentorship with valuable industry connections. In the testing phase this year, ecoActive is seeing great results and the peak spring and fall conference periods offer a perfect synergy at a time when AWARE has lots of hands-on projects requiring substantial support.

“Quite often groups will want an opportunity for conference attendees to give something back to the community,” said Ruddy of the program that gets visitors’ hands dirty on projects that range from building community garden boxes to invasive species removal. “Participants connect with the people who live here, connect with the environment that they’re in, get some time outdoors, but also connect with each other as a team in more of a social setting.”

Ruddy also hopes making a contribution will lead to return visits. She’s keen to keep people connected with updates on their project and follow-up work on return visits.

“It’s added value for us as AWARE. It’s added value for those people who committed their time and energy into helping and I also see it as added value to the community because it just reminds people of how awesome their trip to Whistler was,” said Ruddy.

Zero Waste Heroes creates green events 

While workshopping the ecoActive business model Ruddy also had AWARE’s Zero Waste Heroes initiative being tested in the community. The concept was helping events minimize their waste, while the social enterprising lessons Ruddy was learning were helping maximize this program’s impact — and just last month AWARE formally launched Zero Waste Heroes.

The three-stage program consists of pre-event planning to identify opportunities in advance to reduce event waste, on-site zero waste stations that educate while acting as waste collection points and post-event follow-up on waste diversion success alongside opportunities for future improvement. Addressing the need to divert waste from the landfill, the program generates revenue to cover the cost of the equipment and the small team of knowledgeable lead hands needed to sustain itself.

“We’re delivering this service for great value because not only are we helping events reduce their waste footprint, but they’re also supporting environmental initiatives in the community,” said Ruddy.

Youth programs look to collaborative growth

Ruddy identifies the next need AWARE is working to address as working with other local organizations like the Whistler Naturalists and the Whistler Forest School to collaborate around a shared vision of designing enhanced youth nature programming  for all ages with potential neighbour community exchanges.

With this next enterprise, Ruddy says she is focused on developing a model that covers costs, reduces grant dependency and focuses on collaborative efforts to maximize their impact for this community need.

The link between spending time in nature and reduced stress levels, increased focus and attention, increased strengthening of relationships is there,” said Ruddy who recognizes that when it comes to incorporating enterprising initiatives into non-profits, there’s no one catch-all formula.

“The quest to become financially viable  is one that’s made up of a mix of pieces: some of these enterprising concepts, mixed with memberships, mixed with grant-funding for specific projects and donations from the community,” she said.

Variety and flexibility it would seem are crucial, and for these exciting new programs, an enterprise model is proving to be a key path to sustainable positive impact.

Link to Whistler Question article: http://ow.ly/VJRnm