The traditional approach to economic development is too frequently restricted to the role of government and the private sector. While these two sectors of our economy are important, the third sector, social enterprise, is a significant, but often forgotten, player. This sector occupies a position in which the public or private sectors have no capacity or interest.
Social enterprises have purposes beyond that of private profits or public policy. The legal structures are highly varied and may include cooperatives, not-for-profit societies and certain types of charities. Successful social enterprises are run in a business-like manner but their social goals are equally important as profitability. The governance structure is based on democratic principles such as one person, one vote.
In the Annapolis Valley, as in most other parts of the country, there are dozens of social enterprises. The Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) and the Atlantic Coastal Action Program (ACAP) will be used as a case study to illustrate the important role these groups play in community development.
CARP, formed in 1990, is a not-for-profit organization focused on environmental enhancement in the Annapolis River watershed in southwestern Nova Scotia. Shortly after its creation, it became part of ACAP, an Environment Canada initiative centered on 14 coastal communities in the Atlantic Provinces. There are five groups in each of NS and NB and two in each of PEI and NL.
As part of ACAP, each group enters into a contract with the federal government to assist Environment Canada in achieving its mandates. These are very similar to consulting contracts that are common between governments and private business. As multi-stakeholder organizations, they form additional partnerships with other private, public and social enterprises. By all measures, these 14 social enterprises have made a significant economic, social, and environmental contribution to Atlantic Canada.
Gardiner Pinfold Consulting Economists Ltd. undertook an evaluation of ACAP. For the six-year period ending in March 31, 2007, they concluded that the participating groups created 700 person years of employment, contributed more that $35 million to the GDP of the four provinces and paid $13 million in federal and provincial taxes.
During that period, Environment Canada paid the groups $16 million in consulting fees to assist the department in achieving its program objectives. The Gardiner Pinfold study concluded that it would have cost Environment Canada more in a single year to achieve ACAP outputs than it cost the ACAP organizations to operate over the full six years. These results were similar to those revealed in a previous study undertaken by the firm for an earlier six-year period. Even these rosy numbers underestimate the social and environmental impact that these groups are having on Atlantic Canada.
In a 2009 report, the ACAP participating communities documented their environmental and social sustainability achievements. These included programs for the protection, enhancement, and reintroduction of several endangered species in Atlantic Canada. Shellfish areas formerly closed to harvesting have been re-opened resulting in economic gains for coastal and rural communities. In Saint John, St. John’s, Lunenburg, Annapolis Royal and in many rural areas millions of liters of sewage are now being better managed. Comprehensive environmental monitoring programs involving hundreds of citizens are now common throughout the region. Citizens from youngsters to seniors, farmers to fishers, and investors to general store proprietors are now involved creating a sustainable future for their respective communities.
The successes of these social enterprises have been recognized around the world becoming focal points for international exchanges. Most have received international, national, and regional awards for their efforts. Many Canadian universities involve their students in the unique learning experiences offered by these social enterprises.
The impressive economic and environmental gains are rounded out by achievements in community sustainability. The success of these organizations rests in their capacity to inspire ordinary citizens to imagine and achieve the future their community envisages for itself.
In southwestern New Brunswick, clam harvesters wanted open beaches and they created them. Citizens in St. John’s, Lunenburg, Saint John, Annapolis Royal and other communities achieved improved sewage management. Habitats for trout and Atlantic salmon are improved everywhere. In several communities, legacies of environmentally irresponsible industrial development have been turned into community assets.
A closer look at the employment numbers will reveal that the vast majority of the jobs went to young scientists and technicians who were just launching careers. Many families were surprised when their son or daughter got their first job in their new profession in their home community. This scenario was repeated hundreds of times throughout Atlantic Canada. The alumni of any of these organizations hold prominent positions in business, government, and academic spheres.
These groups have even played a role in broadening the cultural aspects of local communities. In Annapolis Royal and Lunenburg, these community organizations occupy important heritage buildings like the Annapolis Royal Train Station and the former Lunenburg home of Captain Angus Walters. Others have created impressive nature parks. Many of the groups have developed partnerships with the visual and preforming artists.
Whether measured on economic, environmental, or social sustainability scales, social enterprises have shown their worth. If every investment in economic development paid these levels of return, the economic problems of Atlantic Canada would have been solved decades ago.
Stephen Hawboldt has wide and varied experience in the public, private, and social enterprise sectors. He resides in a registered heritage home in Belleisle, NS.