A Canada Bridges Social Enterprise has always been an intriguing idea that has been around since its development, and so I’m pleased to announce that Canada Bridges will be launching a youth consultancy social enterprise sometime near Fall 2024! If you’re unfamiliar, a social enterprise is a business that seeks to do good in the world. The profit that it generates is then used to further the work. At Canada Bridges, the work is about supporting youth-centered social change in an adaptive, strength-based, collaborative, and relational way. We hope that this social enterprise will support youth by providing them with professional development opportunities, while also helping to adapt organizations and systems so that youth are better able to create positive change.
We are celebrating the conclusion of the feasibility study for this social enterprise, marking a major milestone for this initiative. For the past few months, we have been working with Colby Delorme from Imagination Consulting who has been helping us figure out what this major undertaking is going to look like. He, along with our very own Canada Bridges Social Enterprise Coordinator, Rachel Forbes, have been hard at work conducting market research, various analyses, community engagement, and doing a ton of writing. I was able to catch up with Rachel and ask her some questions about the process.
Spirit River: A feasibility study sounds... boring. Now that you've gone through this arduous process, how has your definition of a feasibility study evolved since you first started the project up until now?
Rachel: It was really important to me, working for marginalized communities under a capitalist system, to understand WHY we made each choice that we did, and what the real outcomes would be. I thought once I understood that, building the business was just a matter of hauling out the proverbial lemonade stand and seeing what works, but I learned that being action-oriented can look many different ways and often doesn't have a visible product. In fact, I don't think you can value storytelling and a capitalist definition of productivity. So, I went from viewing a feasibility study as a quick, formal, and uninteresting document, to see it more like the storytelling of our organization's vision. That said, it's 70 pages and probably boring to some, but for me, who was so hungry to be included in these kinds of business activities, the challenge was exciting. To do it properly involves a lot of conversations with a lot of different people and a lot of deep-thought. It's analyzing and building systems, imaging something that doesn't exist yet, and taking all the necessary steps as a leader, to make sure you do your best for people. Making real change and creating something new takes time. I spent the first three months of my contract pestering everyone to tell me what empowerment really means and trying to understand how you can generate revenue while supporting decolonization. I barely know the answer to that, but I really believe in the work we've been doing.
Spirit River: What about your understanding of youth-led social change, has that changed since you first started?
Rachel: Well, since my contract is signed, I'll be honest- I've always fallen into opportunities working with youth, I never previously felt particularly passionate about them. By the Bridges definition, I am a youth myself, but I've spent most of my life being told I was an old soul while being simultaneously dismissed with an "it's okay you're still young." Embracing "youth" wasn't something I'd considered. But I can't promote something I don't really believe in, so I had to ask myself why I believed in this project. Then I attended Meleah Follen's workshop, "Authentically Sharing Power with Youth" in which she said "I've stopped saying youth are the future. They are the present. They're here now, and they're already leaders," and that really resonated with me.
While writing the feasability study I didn't want to use words like "empowerment" or "tomorrow's leaders." We're not here to prop up some hierarchy. We're here to give opportunities to young people because of the wisdom and expertise they already have.
For me, the seeds of understanding youth-led social change came from the March For Our Lives founders, who talk about young people as a social force. Instead of requiring individuals to literally change the world by the time they're 20, they see innate power in the collective voice of young people. However, I also humbly recognize it will take some heavy lifting to get others to buy into that message. On the regular I hear people saying (verbatim), "you young people have to change things, I'm too old to do it." So, young people should carry the weight of the world, suffer the most at the hands of inequity, save the planet, and be paid the least for it? That doesn't work for me.
My goal is to give marginalized young people high paying, value-driven opportunities to change the systems that affect their everyday lives. We already know that young people aren't satisfied with only marginal social improvements and I truly believe that no group should be left out of the decisions and actions that dictate their everyday lives and future. I also believe that apathy, or deviance for that matter, results from inadequate access to the power required to change one's circumstances.
All that to say, I'm now completely convinced of the immense value young people provide to organizations. In writing a feasability study, you have to consider every possible aversion, risk, and question that could come your way. It was hard, but I think we're doing it right. I was reminded of and want to give a huge shout out to people, especially Black women, who are expected to be literally perfect to get their foot in the door for most opportunities. I hope that this study even slightly improves that buy in process and creates accessible opportunities for the young people that need them; and I really hope that organizations will be accountable and genuine in their engagements.
Spirit River: What did this feasibility study mean to you?
Rachel: Well, I'm very excited that the study concludes with a "yes, I recommend to proceed," but regardless, this study is the culmination of my work with Bridges since I joined in May 2023, and I'm really proud of it.
Halfway through the project, when I started seeing a path forward, I asked Colby Delorme, our consultant, about my professional development. I was so nervous when I asked him, "hey, do you think I can do this?" And Colby, a very down-to-business-man, said "Absolutely." Not only did he have faith in me, but he gave me the tools I needed to succeed in the project thus far.
So honestly, this study is me saying "hey look, I can do this" to others, but also to myself. And when someone reads it and they ask "but do you really think youth can do all that?" I can say "absolutely, because I did this."
Spirit River: Without giving too much away, what can readers expect from Bridges in the coming months with this Social Enterprise?
Rachel: Along with my learning that change takes time, I believe internal work is as, if not more, important than any external work one could do, aka "be the change you want to see." So, as I envision the future of this enterprise, I'm really focused on who I want to become along the way. Some of that will mean refining and growing my business skills, but also showing up and continuing to live my values. My wish for this consultancy is that everyone we employ or work with knows that I am their advocate - I've absolutely got their back and will be there to support them however they need. To get there, I hope to continue learning from Treaty 7's various communities, to prioritize my self-care, and to nurture old and grow new relationships.
On the external side, I'm excited to start building! We'll of course be looking for funding, building relationships, and sharing what we learn. I want to leave space for deep thought and to start imaging our service offerings with a more focused lens. We have some ideas and direction, but things always change once they're in front of you.
Overall I really think young people are going to positively disrupt the way we think about equity, diversity, inclusion, identity, and sustainability, and I'm excited to be apart of what's coming.
Spirit River: So we'll be entering into the design phase in the new year, when will readers get an update?
Rachel: I so appreciate everyone that's reached out, either as an interested youth or organization. I will never forget the people that pulled me aside and said "you know, I think the work you're doing is really important and I want to help." If you don't hear from me, I'm working on it, and if you do, I'm working on it!😊 I'd expect by February we'll have our detailed plan for the design phase, with some groundwork laid.
Spirit River: How can people help with this initiative?
Rachel: I'm grateful to be a part of an organization that values collaboration and reciprocity. We know nothing can be done alone and we're happy to share our learning in this journey. With that said, our most immediate need is for funding. We're looking for donors, grant opportunities, and people that will champion this project for us. If that, or any part of this project resonates, I'd love to chat with you! Feel free to send me a note at email@example.com
Thanks for taking the time to read and be apart of our journey.