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Future choices

Pharmacy background a 'puzzle piece' for building viable social enterprise

special feature: Meet Memorial

A summer spotlight on some of the wide-ranging and important roles at Memorial and the faculty, students and staff who fill them.

By Susan White and Heidi Wicks

When Killol Chokshi came to Newfoundland and Labrador from India to pursue a graduate degree, he had never before heard the term social enterprise.

So it was unbeknownst to him that his pharmacy background would be one of the puzzle pieces for building the framework of a viable business model in St. John’s.

Killol Chokshi (centre) has been the lead volunteer at the St. John’s Farmers’ Market since its early days.
Photo: Submitted

‘Significant and lasting change’

“Social enterprise is about creating value that is both social and financial,” said Nicole Helwig, manager of Memorial’s Centre for Social Enterprise (CSE). “Rather than focusing solely on generating profits, social enterprises strive for significant and lasting change for the better.”

The centre uses existing resources at Memorial in different ways to support existing social enterprises, create new ones and promote social enterprise education. Built on a unique partnership between the Faculty of Business Administration, the School of Social Work and the School of Music, it also seeks to enhance the quality of the human experience via social enterprise and social innovation.

The social enterprise model is key to a more diverse, sustainable future for the province and beyond, says Ms. Helwig.

Diversity at work

One way the CSE helps Memorial students discover social enterprise and explore future career paths is through experiential learning opportunities. Via the School of Graduate Studies, the CSE placed Mr. Chokshi at Choices for Youth in St. John’s as a research assistant.

It was there that he began to focus on a new career path.

From left, Killol Chokshi and Choices for Youth’s Ally Jamieson and Chelsea MacNeil.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Mr. Chokshi was hired to gather evidence around how at-risk youth can reduce their chances of succumbing to addiction, homelessness and mental health conditions by providing employment opportunities within a social enterprise business model.

“I screened six databases for relevant articles that examine different working models and themes for social enterprise oriented towards at-risk youth,” he explained. “My thesis in pharmacy required me to work independently and, among other things, develop troubleshooting protocols.”

Mr. Chokshi also conducted literature searches to see what other scientists have done when they encountered similar hurdles. He says sometimes there are solutions and most of the time, he improvises and uses his judgment.

As lead volunteer for the St. John’s Farmers’ Market, a volunteer with Eastern Health and a provincial volunteer representative for the Canada Revenue Agency Volunteering Program, Mr. Chokshi is passionate about supporting community causes.

His Choices for Youth experience has clarified for him which types of projects he will seek out in the future; it has also provided valuable Canadian work experience. (Following this project, he was offered a short-term contract with Choices for Youth).

Economy of care

Chelsey MacNeil, Choices for Youth’s director of social enterprise, says that working with Memorial researchers and students is vital for their organization.

“While there is qualitative research around how social enterprise benefits the vulnerable, there is a real gap in quantitative data on what the actual impact and return is of social enterprise, and we absolutely need that data in order to push policy and engage with government,” she said. “We needed a systematic literature review, and Killol was a real asset.”

Ally Jamieson, research manager, worked directly with Mr. Chokshi.

“His background in hard science and his ability to understand complex ideas and organize them in a way that will make sense was essential. Even though we’re in a social service field, there are a lot of dynamics that are complex and require us as researchers to organize them in a meaningful way, and he is fantastically skilled in the way of being able to categorize ideas.”

The research Mr. Chokshi completed is currently being evaluated and will be published in Choices for Youth publications and research journals by the end of 2018.

“We anticipate that this work will help make a real impact in the research world, so that we can translate to government and society just how transformational social enterprise can be,” said Ms. MacNeil.

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