The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down.
Both globally and in our province, people and communities are suffering due to job losses, failing businesses, increased social problems and a general sense of anxiety and uncertainty.
While addressing these challenges will no doubt be difficult, Newfoundland and Labrador benefits from having a number of creative and innovative social enterprises that are well-positioned to help rebuild our communities and local economies.
Social enterprises use business principles and tools to improve the human experience. They create value for our communities in a variety of ways including by helping vulnerable people, supporting local businesses, enhancing cultural assets and protecting ecosystems.
Many communities across the province are already benefitting from social enterprises. For example, the Bonne Bay Cottage Hospital Heritage Corporation (BBCHHC) is adaptively re-using the old Bonne Bay Cottage Hospital in Norris Point as a social enterprise. The revenues that are generated through the rental of space to local businesses and community organizations, as well as the operation of hostel accommodations, go into supporting activities that contribute to community building including a local radio station, community kitchen and other health and wellness initiatives.
We are partnering with social entrepreneurs, including Kimberly Orren of Fishing for Success in Petty Harbour and David Bradley from the Bonavista Historic Townscapes Foundation, which operates the iconic Garrick Theatre, to study the role of social enterprise in enhancing community vitality and resilience. This research is part of a larger Ocean Frontiers Institute- funded project called Future Ocean and Coastal Infrastructures (FOCI), consisting of 13 research and knowledge dissemination projects that together will allow us to rethink the way we design, develop and manage our natural, physical and societal assets in coastal communities across Atlantic Canada in ways that are sustainable, safe and inclusive.
By studying social enterprises in a range of different communities, we will build on the seven-year, in-depth study of Shorefast, a social enterprise whose mission is cultural and economic resilience on Fogo Island. That research resulted in the PLACE model of Community Development, named for an acronym that emphasizes the power of place-based social enterprises for contributing to more inclusive, economically-diverse and culturally-resilient communities.
The model reflects five key principles that have proven to be indispensable to the experience and successes of Shorefast, including the importance of identifying, repurposing and leveraging a community’s key assets and of bridging distinct ways of knowing emanating from both within the community and outside.
These principles have been used to help guide conversations, called PLACE Dialogues, with community leaders across the province. For example, we co-led a workshop in Norris Point with community leaders from the Gros Morne region in January 2019 that helped validate the model. We’re planning a third province-wide PLACE Dialogues session in November in Norris Point in partnership with Memorial’s Centre for Social Enterprise.
There are some PLACE model principles already in place at the old Bonne Bay Cottage Hospital to provide timely responses to community needs. For example, in response to food insecurity and social isolation cause by the current crisis, the BBCHHC has developed and implemented a new Healthy Meals on Wheels program out of the community kitchen.
The old Bonne Bay Cottage Hospital is also acting as a base for the production team of Tom Cochrane, Olivia Ball and Gary Wilton, who are partnering with the Voice of Bonne Bay Community Radio Station to present a 10-day radio and online version of the Trails, Tales Tunes Festival, which can no longer take place live in Norris Point due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Many other social enterprises in the province have also stepped up during the pandemic to support their communities including Fishing for Success, which is partnering with local organizations to provide prepared local fish meals to vulnerable members of the community.
Our collaboration with other social entrepreneurs in the province will be especially relevant for the post-pandemic recovery efforts as communities begin to rebuild. In an increasingly turbulent and uncertain world, there will be an important role for community-minded enterprises. As organizations that are used to navigating challenging situations and addressing social and environmental issues, social enterprises are well-positioned to strengthen our communities and local economies.